By: Ravi Singh
Last Monday, the Government of Ontario reintroduced the Local Food Act, which had previously died when parliament was prorogued in late 2012.
The preamble of the Act, which builds upon the principle that “Strong local and regional food systems deliver economic benefits and build strong communities”, puts forth the following objectives:
- To foster successful and resilient local food economies and systems throughout Ontario
- To increase awareness of local food in Ontario, including the diversity of local food
- To encourage the development of new markets for local food.
Wynne, who also serves as Minister of Agriculture and Food, emphasized the connection between purchasing local food and strengthening Ontario’s economy. In the official release from the Ministry of Agriculture announcing the Act’s reintroduction, Wynne states, “Eating local isn’t just good for Ontario families – it’s good for the economy. That’s why our government will continue to work with the agri-food sector, including retailers and food service operators, to bring more Ontario food to the table.”
CBC Windsor called the Act a “stepping stone”, noting that “…the act doesn’t include quotas or legislated requirements for the amount of local food sold or bought by retailers or institutions, such as schools and hospitals.” According to the Act, targets and goals will be set in consultation with organizations that have an interest in a particular area concerning local food.
The Brantford Expositor also reports that “Wynne promised the government will hold consultations with stakeholders on a new provincial designation system that could help promote foods of a particular region, standard of production, or unique product attribute.”
Sustain Ontario welcomes the reintroduction of the Local Food Act and the potential it offers for transforming the province’s food system into one with greater opportunities for healthy food and farming.
In a release earlier this week, Karen Hutchinson of the Caledon Countryside Alliance, a Sustain Ontario member, noted the benefits of building local food capacity. “By keeping food local,” Hutchinson said, “we have a triple bottom line benefit for the environment, the economy, and society.”
Michele Legere, coordinator of Food Matters, also praised the Act for its potential to create new jobs in the food and agricultural sectors. Legere says that though farmland remains abundant, less people are farming because family farms have struggled to get their products to market. Legere and Wynne both hope that large grocery chains will buy into the Act, in turn providing more market opportunities for local farmers.
The Act has also drawn its share of criticism. Ernie Hardeman, the Opposition’s Agricultural Critic, criticized the Act as vague and not taking any real action to improve local food and agriculture sectors in Ontario.
Hardeman and MPP Toby Barrett both called attention to the creation of a new regional food terminal, which is not mentioned in the Act. According to Barrett, “The Premier and part-time agriculture minister has clearly missed the boat in overlooking the potential for a local food pipeline via the creation of a new regional food terminal as proposed by the Official Opposition.”
The Official Opposition’s proposal for the creation of a new food terminal was originally put forth in Respect for Rural Ontario, the latest in its Paths to Prosperity series of whitepapers. Sustain Ontario previously covered the release of the whitepaper, detailing the potential advantages of regional food hubs and key recommendations for policy development on this issue.
Sustain Ontario looks forward to providing input on strategies for supporting the development of a sustainable, ecological, and prosperous regional food system as well as ensuring easier access to local food. Additional details and recommendations from Sustain Ontario for the development and passing of a Local Food Act can be found here.