Thank you very much for the opportunity to speak with you this afternoon. It's a real honour to be among you, our elected representatives. I acknowledge that you're working hard to make Canada a better place and to build a better future for food in Canada. Food Secure Canada shares wholeheartedly in those goals.
My name is Anna Paskal, and I'm the senior policy adviser for Food Secure Canada. As some of you may know, Food Secure Canada is a national membership-based organization whose members are taken from the food movement from coast to coast.
The food movement is the most diverse grouping of people who work in the food sector across the whole country. It includes farmers, fishers, people who work in food banks, teachers, nutritionists, dietitians, international development organizations that work on international food issues, unions, provincial and territorial food networks, and much more. It is the most diverse and vibrant group of people and organizations who work on food issues across the country.
The common goal that brings people together as members of Food Secure Canada is to work across silos and across geographies to build a healthy, fair, and ecological food system for Canada.
We're here today in the context of the Growing Forward renewal process specifically to speak about meeting consumer demand. Food Secure Canada feels well placed to speak to this issue and specifically to make some links between what consumers want and how genuinely meeting those needs will also build a healthier and stronger Canadian society overall.
I'm going to tell you a little bit of a story about how we came to be here today to recommend some of the things that we'll be bringing forward.
Food Secure Canada is emerging from an unprecedented countrywide initiative called the “people's food policy”. The people's food policy was a three-year initiative through which 3,500 Canadians participated in developing a national food policy for Canada. This was unprecedented and completely citizen-led, from coast to coast to coast, involving all kinds of Canadians.
The people's food policy was grounded in the principles of food sovereignty. Food sovereignty privileges people, communities, and nation-states to have the right to define their own food systems. Over the course of years, these 3,500 Canadians held kitchen table talks, wrote policy submissions, and participated in volunteer policy-writing teams. This is thousands of real people sitting around real kitchen tables talking about real food issues. These are all consumers, so bringing forward the priorities of the people's food policy reflects very accurately what consumers want today.
The result of the people's food policy is the overarching document “Resetting the Table: A People's Food Policy for Canada”, which you would have all received in advance of today's meeting. We also have 10 detailed policy papers; we sent you the one on agriculture, as it seemed most relevant today, but there are many others on other topics, such as science and technology and international food policy. You can refer to those on our website.
Taken as a whole, the people's food policy is the most comprehensive national food policy being advanced in Canada today. I would really like to underline that point, because we're at a time now when many different sectors and organizations are building national food policies or strategies; the people's food policy is the most comprehensive one being advanced, so I would urge you to consider it in discussions you may be involved in.
The impetus for developing the people's food policy began from a key starting point: our food system is failing Canadians. There are over two and a half million Canadians who don't have enough food to eat—two and a half million. I repeat that number because many Canadians, including elected representatives, aren't aware of the situation of food insecurity in the country. At the same time, we're losing thousands of family farms, over a quarter of Canadians are considered obese, and the industrial agriculture system is one of the leading contributors to climate change, so the status quo is no longer an option: we need change.
Canada can be a global leader in seizing this moment of change and meeting the needs of consumers while also building a stronger society, greater health for the population, and a stronger economy. This approach would be based on the number one priority that came out of the people's food policy, a process that involved thousands of Canadians from coast to coast to coast. Its number one priority is this: Canadians want a sustainable local food system approach.
In other words, they want food that is produced and processed closer to home, using sustainable methods. This very much matches the broad outcomes that you've already identified for Growing Forward around competitiveness and market growth, and specifically around adaptability and sustainability. A sustainable local food strategy would help meet those needs.
One after another, urban and rural, indigenous and non-indigenous Canadians told the people's food policy that they want to serve their families food that is processed and produced closer to home and produced through sustainable methods. I think this echoes very much what Mr. Johnston was saying.
The potential benefits for our society are huge. Local selling and processing opportunities shorten the food chain, which has cost savings and environmental benefits. Working this way links farmers to citizens, maximizing the dollars that farmers receive. Rebuilding local and regional food economies revitalizes rural and remote areas while bringing fresh, healthy food to more people, including in the cities. A shift to fresh and healthy food based on local ingredients can bring great benefits to Canadians, from school kids to people recovering in our hospitals.
A shift of this nature would result in reductions in health care and social costs, and gains in environmental and other externalities. It's a real win-win policy approach.
There are many examples that come from the entrepreneurial and innovative food movement, many of which are Food Secure Canada's members. I'll just mention three to illustrate what I mean by local and sustainable food approaches.
One of them was mentioned already by Dr. Evan Fraser, so I'll repeat that, just because it's sometimes good to hear about things twice. I'm talking about FarmStart. FarmStart is an NGO that supports new and young ecological farmers by offering them the chance to try farming, and if they like it, by providing support—technical support, business planning support—so that eventually they can start their own farms.
Another example is FoodShare, based in Toronto. They run a food hub. They buy large amounts of fruits and vegetables from nearby farmers, bring them to the city, and then distribute them at an affordable rate to schools. They serve hundreds of schools in the Toronto area. They also provide good food boxes to the local community.
Another example is Local Food Plus, which helps to build regional food economies through local sustainable procurement. They're like a dating service for buyers and producers of local and sustainable food. They bring them together and they provide a background check, a certification system, to show that this really is local and sustainable.
These are just a handful of the groundbreaking and innovative local food programs that come out of the food movement. They would benefit from additional funding, but specifically from enabling policy environments.
Many members of the general public are already supportive of positive and forward-looking food systems. We all know there is unprecedented interest in local and sustainable food. People are talking about their farmers and their fishers just the way they used to talk about their doctors. There is a real pride in getting to know where our food is from. However, to really make systemic change and reap the benefits that I outlined above, we must build support for sustainable local food into our policy processes, and this is where you guys come in.
Key to this is the procurement sector. Federal, provincial, territorial, municipal, our schools, our hospitals, our universities, our correctional facilities, our legislatures, government offices—these can all be powerful allies in building the kind of food system that Canadians want, which is food that is Canadian and is sustainable.
If there's one request that Food Secure Canada would submit for your consideration, it would be to make the most of this policy renewal opportunity and to support a sustainable local food strategy. A sustainable local food strategy could be a key guiding component of the Growing Forward framework. It can be an overt, clear strategy with associated financial support for sustainable local food and it would help address many of the challenges facing our country.
It would also address the broad outcomes desired for Growing Forward—competitiveness, market growth, adaptability, and sustainability. If anybody is interested, I have quite a few specifics on what a local food strategy could entail.
By supporting local food producers and regional food processing, by encouraging local food infrastructure, and by building community and institutional demand, we can build a new food system for Canada. This would require a significant shift in focus for Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada as well as other departments, but we can do it, and there would be a lot of citizen support.
We've quadrupled food exports in 20 years in our country. We can surely quadruple how much sustainably produced Canadian food is being grown, processed, and eaten closer to home. This would make a real difference in our economies, our environment, and our health.
We can work together to build on the tremendous innovation that's already sustaining diverse, decentralized, and resilient food production and processing. We can do this through a comprehensive, federally funded, sustainable local food strategy.
In so doing, we can enhance the strength of our economies, the resilience of our environments, and the health of our population. With your active support, we can make this happen.