Towards a National
By Ted Bilyea
Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada officials are preparing a National Food Policy (NFP) based on their mandate letter from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. The precise wording of the mandate should have every retailer’s attention: “Develop a food policy that promotes healthy living and safe food by putting more healthy, high-quality food, produced by Canadian ranchers and farmers, on the tables of families across the country.” The prime minister is not alone in seeking a comprehensive policy that will guide the federal government as it makes decisions pertaining to the many regulations, programs and investments that touch food. Business, academia and the public have expressed the need for an NFP, and the Canadian Agri-Food Policy Institute, Conference Board of Canada, Food Secure Canada, the Canadian Federation of Agriculture, and others have worked towards one. Previous attempts at an NFP failed, as the political will was not there to bring competing interests to a unified vision. So why would today be any different? First of all, the Advisory Council on Economic Growth to the minister of finance has just identified agri-food as a key economic growth sector, with the vision that “Canada will become the trusted global leader in safe, nutritious and sustainable food for the 21st century.” Secondly, issues driving interest groups can be merged into a policy. For example:
• a new consumer food consciousness, with strong demand for authenticity, transparency and accountability;
• climate change and bio system deterioration are forcing us to look at food production through a sustainability lens;
A National Food Policy stemming from the development of a comprehensive roadmap toward a set of priorities for government action can benefit us all if we collectively leverage the abundant capabilities in the industry.
• the economic need for producers and processors to not only be competitive but to rise to their true potential; • the reality of a food-insecure population in a food-surplus country; • recognition that food choices play a key role in wellness;
• the power of emerging science to transform the food system. There is growing recognition by disparate NFP advocates that there is benefit in working together to prioritize goals. So how would a National Food Policy affect grocery retailers? A walk through any of Canada’s better grocery retailers immediately signals they are immersed in the critical issues, including affordability, sustainability, health and, most of all, trust. However, there will be significant challenges to proactively manage an NFP; for instance: • How to alleviate food insecurity without simply defaulting to cheap food. • For our agri-food system to become the trusted global leader in safe, nutritious and sustainable food, there will have to be more Canadian agri-food on the shelf here at home. • Most importantly, retailers must continue to set the gold standard in trust. The transparency bar will continue to rise on where food comes from, what is in it and how it is produced.
Ted Bilyea is chair of the Canadian Agri-Food Policy Institute and former executive vice-president of Maple Leaf Foods Inc. He is the past recipient of the H.R. MacMillan Laureate in Agriculture from the University of Guelph, and holds a B.A. (Hons.) and an M.A. in International Relations from York University.
May | June 2017