NDP’s food report urges public incentives for local foods

The federal New Democrats’ report urging a national food security policy calls for incentives and tax policies to encourage local food production and labelling that “properly” lays out foods’ origin.

The report, released Tuesday, was developed over the party’s 18-month “Food for Thought Tour,” which scheduled forums in 28 communities and was  spearheaded by the party’s agriculture critic in the House of Commons, B.C. MP Alex Atamanenko.

“Throughout the tour, Canadians told us that when it comes to food, we have to start thinking locally,” he said in Tuesday’s release.

“We need to make sure that everyone has access to safe and nutritious food and who better to produce it than our own farmers? We already trust them to put healthy food on our plates. It’s time our government did the same.”

Given the “potential calamities which are likely to arise from the effects of climate change, trade disputes and rising energy prices there is a growing public demand for the federal government to forge enhanced partnerships with provincial and municipal leaders to develop a comprehensive Canadian food strategy.”

Until all Canadians “have access to nutritious, safe, and culturally appropriate and personally acceptable foods produced in ways that are socially just and environmentally sound we cannot make the claim that we are a food secure nation,” Atamanenko wrote in the report.

While not specifically calling for a country-of-origin label, the report calls for legislation requiring that food be “properly labelled with information on its origin, its nutritional value and whether it is genetically modified or not.”

Imported foods, the report said, should be required to meet the same environmental and health standards as food produced in Canada. Resources should be made available to enforce those standards, the report urged.

The government should also work with provincial and territorial governments to require that food production and food preparation be added to school curricula, the party said. It also called for greater skill training, mentorship programs and other incentives to encourage young farmers to take up farming and to support current farmers.

Incentives and new tax policies should be developed to promote local food production, processing capacity and distribution networks such as farmers’ markets and agriculture co-operatives, the party’s report said.

“Alternative and appropriate”

To that end, the report also calls for “an alternative and appropriate food safety regulatory regime for small, farm-gate operations.”

Such a set of separate regulations would help “to counteract the decreasing access to the facilities (small-scale farmers) need such as slaughterhouses,” the report noted.

It also proposes analysis on the impact of Canada’s trade agreements with other countries on Canadian farmers and assessing how said agreements could be renegotiated to create a “more stable, predictable and secure marketplace for farmers.”

Federal institutions should also be required to use local sources for their food supplies and encourage other levels of government to do the same, the party urged.

On the topic of sustainability, the report proposes a Heritage Breed Act to “preserve heritage seeds and breeds as well as our biodiversity” and by “facilitating the availability of arable land for people committed to farming.”

Citing comments during the tour’s public forums in B.C., Atamanenko wrote that “is not necessary to abandon large-scale conventional farming, but that this system should not exist at the expense of traditional farming, which is our insurance against future unknowns. It offers the means of making marginal agriculture land productive (and) safer ways to produce food and is interdependent with heritage breeding.

“Because there are huge amounts of unused farmland, we must make small-scale farming viable once again.”

The community forums were co-ordinated by NDP MPs in each area. MPs from all parties were invited, the party noted, specifically thanking P.E.I. Liberal MP Shawn Murphy and Bloc Quebecois MP Christian Ouellet for attending the forums in their communities.

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