Op-ed: Food Waste in Canada

If you’re like many other Canadians, every week two or three items go almost directly from your grocery shopping cart to the compost or garbage bin. Wasting food is a major cost to households.

But what’s more concerning is that food is wasted at all points along the value chain – from the farm, to the processor, to your table. It’s estimated that in Canada, $27 billion worth of food ends up in landfills or composts annually. This has a detrimental effect on our economy and on the environment. We believe that the federal government has a role to play in reducing food waste, and in fostering more sustainable methods of food production.

That’s why New Democrats have developed our vision for a National Food Strategy. We believe that food matters. This government campaigned on a promise to develop a National Food Strategy, but they have failed to make good on that promise. 

Despite the amount of food being wasted annually – there are still millions of Canadians going hungry. Each year, the number of households that are relying on food banks is growing, with the number of children and seniors staggering.

Canada is a wealthy country, with abundant land and natural resources. Most people have secure access to quality food relative to most of the world. Yet too many Canadians, particularly in vulnerable sections of our society do not have access and are unable to exercise their fundamental right to food. In March, 2011, while 851,014 Canadians needed to use a food bank, the number of food insecure Canadians may actually be as high as 4.3 million (Food Banks, Canada 2011, Goldberg and Green 2009).

On May 6, 2012, Canada became the first industrialized country to be visited by the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food. Professor Olivier De Schutter’s mission examined whether the human right to adequate food is being realized in Canada. In his 10 day trip across the country, he highlighted that many Canadians do not have adequate access to healthy and affordable food.  He noted that food insecurity among first nation’s communities is at alarming levels.

Instead of committing to resolving this problem, the Conservatives resorted to personal attacks. Their petty criticisms were an international embarrassment and showed their willful disregard of this issue.

Ensuring that Canadians have healthy, affordable food is a national priority.  New Democrats have a vision for our food system, one that connects Canadians from farm to fork. We need to look at the whole picture and bring an integrated approach to federal policy that connects health, income, agriculture, and rural development. It can be done.

We want to see every Canadian have access to a healthy meal on their plate. Food is a fundamental human right, and it is a social determinant of health. Focusing on healthy food now means a healthier population down the road and better use of our health care dollars.

We can all do our part to reduce food waste. But we believe it’s time for the government to play a leading role in reducing waste at all levels of the value chain. Identifying the causes of food waste and developing ways to address them requires looking at the entire value chain, not just sectors in isolation of one another. We need a long-term vision that benefits producers, processors and consumers.

We hope that the government will get on board.

You can find the article first published in iPolitics here.