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Ontario set to legislate local food policy

Provincial legislation being drafted in Ontario is expected to set up a platform for policy goals aimed at growing and marketing Ontario food.

The Local Food Act, announced last week by Agriculture Minister Ted McMeekin, "could provide a framework for a more sustainable agriculture sector for Ontario," said Mark Wales, president of the Ontario Federation of Agriculture.

Such a bill is meant to "help the sector be even more prosperous, competitive and sustainable," McMeekin said in a release.

Specifically, the province said, the new Act, when passed, would "provide a framework for developing goals and targets around the production, processing, distribution, sales and marketing of Ontario food."

More generally, the legislation would "support one of the province’s leading industries" and "promote and celebrate the local things Ontarians grow, make, serve, sell or eat," the province said.

Such legislation "has been an interest of the (OFA) for some time," Wales said, citing the federation’s work with the Canadian Federation of Agriculture and other groups on a national food strategy.

The agri-food industry "has a clear vision for our sector, and the OFA looks forward to working with the Ontario government to incorporate that vision and leadership into the provincial statute," he said.

Also responding to McMeekin’s announcement, the Alliance of Ontario Food Processors cited its own recent report showing food and beverage processing sales of $39 billion in 2010, representing an annual rate of increase of two per cent per year since 2005.

The AOFP report also pointed to Ontario food and beverage makers as the largest customers of Ontario’s farmers, buying about 65 per cent of what the farmers produce.

"We are the single largest manufacturing employer in Ontario and we know that there is huge potential for more growth in our sector," AOFP executive director Steve Peters said in a separate release. Continued and increased investment in the sector would show "solid returns for Ontario taxpayers," the association said.

Ontario food production contributes over $33 billion per year to the economy and employs more than 700,000 people, the province said.

Each farmer in the province produces, on average, enough food to feed 120 people a year, contributing to a total basket of over 200 different Ontario-grown agricultural commodities, the province added.

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