The Big Picture: The future of the global food landscape

UNIFIED AND BALANCED NATIONAL FOOD STRATEGY NEEDED

with challenges like climate change, a growing population, food safety concerns and resource availability it may seem like an uncertain time to be in the food industry. However, with every challenge comes many opportunities. For the Canadian food industry those opportunities are abundant; exponential advancements in technology, a wealth of resources, a developed and sophisticated food system and consumers who are becoming increasingly conscious of their food purchase decisions.

To address Canada’s opportunities, on February 7 and 8, 2012 the Conference Board of Canada hosted Canada’s food industry in the first ever Canadian Food Summit. Galen Weston of Loblaws set the tone of the conference early. When discussing food safety and traceability he made an off the cuff comment: “Farmers markets are great…one day they’re going to kill some people though.” For the rest of the summit the hallways, lunch conversations and Twitter feed were abuzz with relentless criticizing remarks being hurled Weston’s way.

From that point on small scale production, local and organic food, sustainable practices, decreased meat consumption and the need to eliminate industrial big business seemed to dominate the agenda. Creating the groundwork for a national food strategy was the goal of the summit but production practice differences often took the front seat. In the words of Nicholas Saul, of the Stop Community Food Centre, “The battle for the hearts, minds and stomachs of Canadians is on!”

Just like the agricultural industry is segmented, the whole food system in Canada has been criticized for taking a divided approach at creating this essential strategy. Currently there are several different food strategies being developed, many national and some even regional or sector specific. The issue is not whether there is a need for a national food strategy. All parties represented at the summit agreed that the above mentioned challenges require a broad multi sector strategy to balance risk and maintain food security in Canada. The issue though is how to go about bringing stakeholders from all parts of the food system together to develop a unified, balanced strategy.

Day two of the summit played host to a very important panel discussion examining successful food strategies from around the world. Representatives from Scotland, Australia and the UK were on hand to share their trials and triumphs in developing their strategies. James Withers of Scotland Food & Drink noted that we need to recognize each other’s strengths and get past competitive sector-specific tensions. He suggested that when creating this strategy we need to be cognizant of a final destination goal that includes specific metrics. It was noted the strategy should include stakeholder representation from several different sectors, including producers, processors, suppliers, manufactures and retailers – the whole value chain. Advisor groups such as health professionals, academia, government and consumers should lend support to the stakeholders.

It is no doubt that we have a daunting task before us. The Canadian food industry is well aware that business as usual is not acceptable in times like these. We see the challenges laid before us and need to be  eager to take advantage of the opportunities to grow a strong, sustainable food system together for our consumers. •