It was with a great deal of excitement – and a healthy dose of cynicism – that I read that all of the major parties have included food and agriculture concerns as part of their platforms.
Food is such an incredibly important part of everyone’s lives and community, and I’m heartened that the parties are finally taking note of this. However, I also agree with Rod MacRae, who was quoted in the Globe and Mail on why these issues are finally getting some attention:
On Monday, the parties will hash out their respective policies at a debate in Ottawa. But one food policy critic said none of the platforms are detailed enough to take seriously.
“None of them really link the food story to health care that well, or to social-policy reform,” said Rod MacRae, a professor at York University who is one of Canada’s foremost experts on the subject. “What they’ve done is pick the low-hanging fruit – the things that are more part of the public consciousness right now.”
And really, when you look at the details of the platforms and plans, that’s really all we see: the superficial issues surrounding Canada’s food policy – or rather, it’s lack thereof. Over the past several years, people have become more and more aware of where their food comes from, and they are starting to see the problems in the current food system. All the political parties have done is grab what big issues have gotten the most traction, and wiggled them into their platforms.
The Globe article has a summary of each of the major parties’ platforms, or you can go to each party’s website and read their full platform for yourself. It’s a lot of good stuff, although each party has areas where they’re a bit weak. For example, the Greens have a lot of good ideas, but seem to be missing some of the “big picture” stuff like the challenges of feeding a growing nation with a dwindling number of farms, while the Conservatives seem to be focused on “big agriculture” while ignoring the needs of the consumers who want choice.
Here’s what I’d like to see addressed in more detail:
Education components for food strategies. While the Liberals and the NDP talk about educating students on healthy food choices, no party goes into much detail about education for all Canadians, not just the young. While I agree that the basis for change is best approached through young people, food issues are complicated and people have a difficult time understanding the issues involved. Federal assistance in the development of local food policy councils, such as those in Vancouver and Toronto, would assist people in understanding the issues that local farmers, producers and consumers are facing.
Consumer choice. The boondoggle with Peak of the Market and Manitoba’s potato growers last spring and the ongoing fight for raw milk producers shows that consumers want to be able to choose and eat the foods that they want. In some cases, the government steps in and tells them, “No, you can’t.” A little less nanny-state and a little more flexibility for non-mainstream foods (like raw milk and cheese) would be nice. I’m also not fond of the condescension that is sometimes leveled at consumers when it comes to food safety.
Food safety. This ties in nicely with my previous points. An educated consumer is a safe consumer, because they are able to make smart decisions about their food choices. But at the same time, food needs to be produced in a safe manner. I was highly irritated during the Maple Leaf Foods listeriosis outbreak in 2008 when it seemed that the CFIA and Health Canada were turning around the problem onto consumers with their trotted out tag lines that listeria can be killed by heating the food. We saw the same thing when E.coli cropped up in spinach in 2006. I don’t know about you, but I typically don’t microwave my deli meat or thoroughly cook my spinach salad before eating it. Letting large food corporations monitor their own food safety alone (or having announced inspections, which might as well mean no inspections at all) strikes me as silly. The Conservatives, the Liberals and the Bloc all promise more funds for the CFIA.
But again, my cynicism is showing – no matter who is elected, I doubt there will be any substantive change. It’ll remain up to each individual to do their research and make smart decisions about what they eat, at least until government really gets it.