As we move into 2017, there are many pressing issues surrounding food security in Canada, especially as we work to ensure a more food secure future across the country in the short and long term. According to a report from Value Chain Management International, Canadian food waste amounts to $31 billion lost each year. As described in Canada’s Food Price Report (Dalhousie University), food affordability is becoming a growing concern for more Canadians, with food prices expected to increase between two to four per cent in the next year. Rising costs within the global food system make it more difficult for lower-income families who are already struggling to make ends meet. Rising costs also create the additional challenge of addressing increasingly poor nutritional outcomes as consumers switch to less healthy options while seeking cheaper alternatives to fresh produce and meat.
In addition to charitable food programs and other not-for-profit work in reducing food insecurity, Canadian policy and legislation must also address the negative impact of food waste at the system level. This can be achieved by looking for solutions and best practices for managing food waste in the long term. Most food shortage reduction strategies to date have focused on increasing food production. However, evidence shows that a more efficient means of food distribution, as well as changing excessive food disposal patterns, results in a more effective means of food waste reduction. By adopting alternatives in the food supply chain and cutting down on food waste, both consumers and producers will be able to benefit from reduced costs and improve the existing food value chain.
In recent years, many organizations have encouraged consumers to eat locally-grown food in order to reduce fuel consumption, and avoid spoilage in warehousing and shipping. However, this context risks being oversimplified as studies reveal the impact of food miles to food waste. Policies focused on addressing waste reduction must take into account the balance between imported produce, while weighing the sustainability costs of shipping and packaging against the emission costs of local, off-season production. Another concern within the food waste reduction strategy is the substantial volume of potentially edible food discarded by producers, supermarkets, and consumers. National legislation to reduce organic waste in France and Italy have made international headlines by requiring unsold, edible food to be donated to prevent waste. It will be interesting to see the solutions proposed for other food issues, such as enhancing public awareness of food shelf life and expiration dates.
Existing federal, provincial, and territorial governments emphasize agricultural policy, and focus on sector growth, innovation, and sustainability.
Within current national food strategies, as outlined in the mandate to the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food and Bill C-231’s proposal to establish a National Food Awareness Day, there are significant opportunities to expand on the development of a national food strategy by building policies that will increase consumer awareness and support the agricultural sector. Existing federal, provincial, and territorial governments emphasize agricultural policy, and focus on sector growth, innovation, and sustainability. Future national social policy development must be comprehensive, embracing a systematic approach to balance and tie-in a sector-focused framework with policy interventions. These changes will be necessary to improve nutrition and health outcomes for all Canadians.
Priscilla Mak is a 2018 Master of Public Policy candidate at the School of Public Policy and Governance. Prior to her graduate studies, she received a Bachelor of Business Administration from the University of Toronto and worked in the not-for-profit sector and the Ontario Public Service. An advocate of civic engagement, Priscilla sits on the Mississauga Public Library Board and is an active member of the CivicAction Emerging Leaders Network. Her policy interests include municipal governance and tackling food insecurity.