Print Page

VP Corner

Food Strategy

Why We Need a Canadian Food Strategy

Michael Bloom
Vice-President, Organizational Effectiveness and Learning
April 30, 2012

Food matters. It affects our lifestyles, our health, our jobs, our economy, and our environment. For the last century, Canada’s system of managing its food policies has involved little more than reacting to crises as they arise, then adding new mechanisms or structures onto existing arrangements. The time has come for a comprehensive, integrated Canadian Food Strategy.

Unlike most countries, Canada is blessed with many options when it comes to food. True to its image as a breadbasket to the world, Canada is one of the few countries that can comfortably feed its own people while exporting its products worldwide. To put a twist on a well-known tagline, the world needs more Canada—but does Canada want more of the world?

Canadian food “policy” is a mix of contradictions, which is one reason why the Conference Board established the Centre for Food in Canada: to develop an integrated Canadian Food Strategy. A coherent strategy—one that delivers safe and healthy food to all Canadians, supports a viable food industry, and ensures that food is produced in a sustainable way—must bridge numerous gaps in the national economy and in society.

A first step to improving the health of Canadians may be to change the food on our plates.

Let’s start with the place of food in international trade. While about 70 per cent of Canadian crop sales are exported to global markets, some parts of the food sector concentrate on serving the domestic market by maintaining supply-managed industries. Through policy, government has de-linked reform of the Canadian Wheat Board, pursuit of free trade deals with Europe and Central America, and access to the Trans-Pacific Partnership from its defence of supply management. This approach caters to domestic interests but complicates our international negotiating clout.

Tied to our international competitiveness is innovation, which has become a buzzword when it comes to accelerating Canada’s productivity growth. Canada is already a global leader in many food products and processes, but the lack of a harmonized regulatory framework is a barrier to innovation and growth.

As with other aspects of the food system, Canada’s approach to food supply and safety is disjointed. While a high-profile community movement favours local food over imported products, Canadian retailers stock their shelves with foods from around the world in response to customer demand. And Canadians intuitively feel that the small family farm is the backbone of the food supply, even though large companies are more likely to adopt the formal quality management programs that improve food safety.

Canadians identify health care as one of the two issues they care most about. However, the attention tends to fall on the treatment side of the equation, such as wait times or affordability, rather than on prevention and wellness. Research shows that diet exacerbates chronic conditions such as cardiovascular disease, cancer, and diabetes. A first step to improving the health of Canadians may be to change the food on our plates.

The Canadian public has an appetite for discussion of food issues. A comprehensive Canadian Food Strategy—one that incorporates the broad effects of food on our day-to-day lives—will set the table for a promising future.

More Columns