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National food policy can play key economic and social roles

...But there's a great deal of work to be done before it's actually useful.

For the first time, we have a national food policy. That’s good news.

The vision is that all people in Canada have access to sufficient safe, nutritious and culturally diverse food. And that Canada’s food system is resilient and innovative, sustains our environment and supports our economy.

It’s easy to support such a vision and to believe that it should not be too difficult to attain. Most Canadians have access to enough food most of the time and a country as rich as ours should be able to deal with the exceptions in this new policy.

Compared to many other countries (consider melamine in baby milk in China), our food is safe.

Nutrition and culture can collide. Nutritious food exists on the produce aisle and elsewhere, but culturally many of us prefer junk food much of the time.

Our food system is economically viable and resilient enough to endure without depleting all the ground water or seriously polluting the soil, as happens elsewhere.

Planned actions under the new food policy can do much good. One major goal is to reduce or eliminate food waste. Over 11 billion tons of food go to waste in Canada every year, at a cost of $50 billion. A fund now exists to reduce this waste in food processing, retailing and serving. How we minimize waste once the food is in our homes is up to us.

Food fraud is not something I thought much about until I started reading that genetic testing showed that much of the fish we eat isn’t the species listed on the label or the menu. Then I met an executive who trades internationally in edible oils who assured me that Italy exports far more ‘olive’ oil than its trees produce.

Now I’m very happy to see that increased inspection is a part of our food policy and we can continue to rely on labels and menus.

Vitally needed, though not yet fully formulated, is a program to ensure that no children in Canada come to school hungry. Since education is not the responsibility of the federal government, consultation with the provinces, territories and not-for-profit organizations must take place to set up school meals.

May it happen quickly. We should not have children going to school hungry while bureaucrats debate.

Also essential are programs for northern and isolated communities, many of them Indigenous. I was in Iqaluit, Nunavut, just before the first ship of the season arrived. Store and food bank shelves were pretty bare.

No time should be wasted to set up community freezers and greenhouses, along with the training needed to maximize their contribution to local food security.

What is food security? You have it if you never have to ask where your next meal is coming from.

The new food policy doesn’t dwell on food security. But the work of Food Secure Canada contributed to the national food policy and its ongoing activity will no doubt influence its implementation.

Food security should never be an issue in a nation like Canada and reducing food insecurity can be fairly straightforward.

However, implementing any policy (food or otherwise) in Canada rarely is straightforward.

Setting up a Canada brand for domestic food sounds like a very good idea. It will increase the demand for Canadian food within the country.

However, a check with Agriculture Canada will show that a far more serious problem than the lack of demand is a lack of supply of many food products. Producers are unable to get enough workers to plant, pick or pack their produce.

Many issues and components must be dealt with by those charged with turning this preliminary policy into action. We wish them every success.

Troy Media columnist Roslyn Kunin is a consulting economist and speaker.

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