“Sustainable” farm incomes and environmental stewardship of farmland are two of five planks in what the federal Liberals have dubbed their new “National Food Policy.”
The food policy, laid out Monday in Ontario by Opposition Leader Michael Ignatieff, is meant to “get more of (Canadian farmers’) products on our tables,” he said in a release.
“We need more home-grown food on Canadian tables — because our health and our economy depend on it.”
The Liberals said in their release that the new policy is the second part of their “Rural Canada Matters” initiative.
Polling at or near a dead heat with the governing Conservatives at the national level in recent months, the Liberals have not tended to enjoy the same level of support in rural areas — particularly in the West, where the party has only six MPs, including just two on the Prairies.
“While farmers and our agri-food sector provide one out of every eight jobs and generate $42 billion in annual economic activity, the economic crisis has strained the pillar of our rural communities — our farms — to the breaking point,” the party said in Monday’s release.
The Liberals’ food policy calls for:
- “sustainable” farm incomes, with what the Liberals call a “Clean Slate Commitment” for “practical, bankable” farm programs developed in partnership with farmers, including “AgriFlex,” a proposal originally put forward by general farm groups to fund “regionally flexible” programs to help farms meet their costs of production;
- healthy living, including an $80 million “Buy Local” fund to promote farmers’ markets and home-grown foods, a $40 million “Healthy Start” program to help 250,000 low-income children get access to healthy foods, “progressive” health labelling, “tough” standards on trans fats, and a “Healthy Choices” program, meant to help Canadians make “informed eating decisions;”
- implementing all recommendations from last July’s federally-commissioned Weatherill report on food safety and the 2008 listeriosis outbreak, with $50 million pledged for improving food inspections and ensuring imported foods meet Canadian domestic standards;
- environmental farmland stewardship, by boosting Environmental Farm Plan (EFP) programs, improving fertilizer and pesticide management, and “rewarding farmers for their role in clean energy production and protecting wildlife habitat;” and
- international leadership, including promotion of Canadian food internationally and expansion of Canada’s share in “high-value” export markets, while also fostering food security in Africa and the world’s poorest nations.
“We’re working with farmers to build new farm programs from the farm up, and not Ottawa down,” Liberal agriculture critic Wayne Easter said in the party’s release. “Farmers have told us that a new National Food Policy must wipe the slate clean to create regionally flexible programs by farmers, for farmers.”
“We can’t prevent disease, fight obesity or control health care costs if we don’t get more healthy home-grown food on our tables,” Liberal health critic Carolyn Bennett added. “Our farmers will be central to meeting the health care challenge of the next decade.”