Food Nutrition and Food Security Discussion Brief

Policy Discussion Brief

Glen’s Policy Discussion Briefs are a springboard for generating ideas about important policy issues. They provide an overview of an issue, like food nutrition and food security, and describes options for responding, including how Glen could implement policy as leader of the Green Party of Canada. To engage in the conversation, email us at policy@glenmurray.ca or register for a town hall Zoom call at https://www.glenmurray.ca/events.

Issue: Food security, food nutrition

We need to rethink our relationship with food: how we grow it, where it comes from, and what we eat. Our current approach generates unacceptable health, ecological and social justice effects. We need to do better.

Globalized supply chains have decreased food self-sufficiency, increased energy inputs to produce and ship food leading to growing greenhouse gas emissions, and increased reliance on large-scale industrialized agriculture.

Overreliance on processed and animal-based products in our diets hurts our health and planet.

Canada’s recently updated Food Guide and the Intergovernmental Panel Report on Land Use recommend adding more plant-based foods to our diets as a way to improve health and reduce environmental effects. 

A recent study, however, published in the British Medical Journal assessing the health and sustainability impacts of country food guidelines shows we need to do more. The study found that of 85 countries reviewed for their food guideline effects on cutting early deaths from non-infectious diseases by one third, and staying within greenhouse gas limits required to stay well below 2 degrees Celsius warming in the Paris Agreement, that only two countries were on track. According to a Guardian review of the study, only Indonesia and Sierra Leone met the targets, while 74 countries missed the Paris Agreement goal. Canada and the United States had the highest level of greenhouse gas emissions associated with their food guidelines.

In addition to food nutrition and environmental impacts, the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted potential risks associated with weak food self-sufficiency and treatment of migrant workers

Glen Murray says

The COVID-19 pandemic shows how vulnerable to disruption our food supply is. The risks and conditions become worse when you weigh the impacts of climate change on food security and cost. We need a Green made-in-Canada nutrition and food security strategy.”

“Our treatment of migrant farm workers is appalling. We need provinces and the federal government to collaborate to ensure government-sponsored quarantine services for migrant workers during the pandemic.”

What would Glen do?

Greens want to change agriculture. Our policies are comprehensive and aggressive, but focused mostly on production. Consumers have a role to play in agricultural reform. We also need a transition plan to help farmers adapt, identify new local and regional markets and value-added products. I propose we create a Green Party working group to build on current commitments to identify gaps in nutrition and food security policy, consumer education and behaviour change, supply chains, and sustainability, including cutting greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture.

The working group, comprised of food producers, supply chain members and consumers, would identify and assess gaps and ways to close them. It is expected that topics like these would be on the agenda – just transition and treatment of farmers and migrant workers, taxation and subsidy policies, value-added opportunities that support local, sustainable plant-based farming; and plant-based meat alternatives and cellular agriculture (e.g., growing animal tissue from stem cells), and other value-added products.

The Working Group will make regular Zoom presentations accessible to Party members to ensure transparency and representativeness of the policy development process.

Background

Just over eight percent of Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions come from agriculture, compared to about 25 percent globally. According to Environment Canada’s 2020 National Inventory report, in 2018, the Agriculture sector accounted for 59 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions (31% of national methane emissions and 76% of national nitrous oxide emissions). Over half of these greenhouse gas emissions (32 million tonnes) are from livestock production, with the greatest contribution (24 million tonnes from beef production. 

Food production that contributes to soil erosion and pollution of waterways needs immediate attention. The recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Special Report on Land Use report shows agriculture currently accounts for about 70% of global fresh-water use and is associated with global increases in net greenhouse gas emissions, loss of natural ecosystems (e.g., forests, savannahs, natural grasslands and wetlands) and declining biodiversity.

A recent study of the health and sustainability effects of national food guidelines published in the British Medical Journal concluded: “This analysis suggests that national guidelines could be both healthier and more sustainable. Providing clearer advice on limiting the consumption of animal source foods, in particular beef and dairy, was found to have the greatest potential for increasing the environmental sustainability of dietary guidelines, whereas increasing the intake of whole grains, fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds, and legumes, reducing the intake of red and processed meat, and highlighting the importance of attaining balanced energy intake and weight levels were associated with most of the additional health benefits.”

With respect to the treatment of migrant farm workers, 1,150 have tested positive for COVID-19 in Ontario and three have died. Mayors and health officials are asking for the province to provide quarantine services like British Columbia. According to the July 15, 2020 report in The Globe and Mail, “approximately 37,000 temporary foreign workers have so far arrived in Canada to work on farms. Employment and Social Development Canada estimates that an additional 14,000 migrant farm workers will come before the end of the year; roughly half are destined for Ontario. The federal department said in an e-mail that it is not currently considering assuming responsibility for the initial quarantine.”

Green Party policy

The Green Party of Canada’s vision is to grow the amount of food we eat from local sources and produced organically. We want to enable young people to take up farming and see urban agriculture thrive, including community and school gardens, and urban farms.

  • Glen wholeheartedly endorses these Green Party of Canada Food policy recommendations:
    • Fund research and extend support for farmers shifting from conventional to organic and regenerative farming systems that work with nature, not against it, to produce food.
    • Adopt animal welfare legislation to prevent inhumane treatment of farm animals, including in intensive factory farming operations. This will set minimum standards of treatment and have a timetable for phasing out intensive factory farming and other inhumane animal husbandry practices
    • Set a target to replace a third of Canada’s food imports with domestic production, increasing regional food self-reliance and returning 15 billion food dollars back into our economy.
    • Assist in re-establishing the infrastructure for local food production in canneries, slaughterhouses and other value-added food processing.
    • Protect supply management systems while allowing production for local markets outside this system.
    • Renew the national Environmental Farm Plan Program to help farmers protect wildlife habitat areas and marginal lands, maintain water quality in streams, lakes and aquifers, ensure drainage does no damage, and retain and improve soil quality, increase carbon sequestration and decrease water requirements.
  • And these ideas from our Covid-19 Recovery Plan Re-Imagining our Future and others:
    • Encourage Canadians at all levels to embrace a “grow local” mentality by:
      • Reinforcing local food supply chains such as farmers’ markets 
      • Encourage local scale agri-food production as an economic development tool.
      • Consider how to use Canada agricultural potential to fight against hunger at home and away.
      • Encouraging individuals to source locally or grow and make their own food, like the victory gardens of WWI and WWII.
      • Educate Canadian’s about where food comes from. 
      • Supporting local food processing and de-centralized meat production and tackling the huge problems we saw with Cargill and our current corporate meat production system.
      • Move away from the massive, monopolistic and unsustainable industrial livestock model. Re-localize food production and processing capacity
      • Provide funding to agriculture and farmers, (especially small and ecological farms) that advance Green aligned food production.

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    • Lois Horst
      commented 2020-07-28 16:32:29 -0500
      I am heartened that a leadership candidate is making food security and sustainability a central pillar of policy.
      I am especially pleased that the need for improved animal well-being and the need to shift away from intensive factory-farming, towards increased plant-based food is acknowledged. Essential to a sustainable future is the need to move towards organically based, soil-enriching (for safe food and carbon storage), and away from intensive resource use, soil and water damaging “inputs” and the inhumane conditions animals are subjected to. Thank you for making this a central issue.
    • Lois Horst
      commented 2020-07-28 16:24:03 -0500
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    • Michael Barkley
      commented 2020-07-28 14:43:11 -0500 Flag
      I think the party is often silent on the role of the ever evolving corporate power and stranglehold control finance capital has over our economy – and this applies to agriculture. We need to roll back the adverse effects of any corporate-controlled approach to agricultural reform. They may talk green speak but their interests are in profits and shareholder value, not community need. We need to support small and local, not corporate and mega farming.

      We must figure out in policy how to push back corporate power and challenge what it is doing to our food system. These corporations will double down on our efforts at organic farming or taking back farming to local communities, they will continue to try and shut out the competition.

      The Cargill’s, Nestle’s, Monsanto’s of the world will continue their assault on the land to expand their profit margins and this must be an element of policy. How do we take essential goods out of the market economy and make food an essential service? How does food become a right not a profit centre? No candidate is addressing this as far as I can see, but I admit I have not read all the candidates policies yet on this topic. Certainly our existing GPC policies only obliquely address this issue.