Ontario reboots ‘local food’ legislation

Legislation announced last fall to help boost the profile and sales of Ontario-produced foods, by setting up a platform for provincial policy goals, has been revived and re-introduced.

Ontario’s legislature on Monday re-introduced the Local Food Act, a legislative package which, if passed, “would help make more local food available in markets, schools, cafeterias, grocery stores and restaurants throughout the province,” the government said.

The proposed Act is meant to “increase local food awareness, access and sales” by setting local food goals and targets in consultation with stakeholders. It would also require the provincial government to produce a local food report on its activities to support local food.

The legislation would also “enable government to work with public sector organizations toward these goals and share information on their progress and results.”

The Act, previously introduced last fall by then-agriculture minister Ted McMeekin, would also proclaim a “Celebrate Ontario Local Food Week” which would begin the Monday before Thanksgiving.

The Ontario Federation of Agriculture hailed the announcement as breaking “new ground” for the province, noting the legislation’s aim of creating “a local food system that supports farmers, increases awareness on the importance of eating local and sets targets for public sector organizations that will be publicly reported and scrutinized.”

With nearly 1,500 public institutions in the province serving three meals a day, a shift in public sector food purchases to 25 per cent local food would create a $200 million benefit for Ontario’s local food economy, the OFA said.

“Ontario farmers are eager to meet consumer demand and preferences for local, fresh food,” OFA president Mark Wales said in a separate release Monday. “This Act will help create more opportunities but to be truly effective Ontario also needs to focus on food literacy in our schools and improving access to nutritious food for all Ontarians.”

Burkhard Mausberg, CEO of the Friends of the Greenbelt Foundation, also hailed the legislation as a “step in the right direction,” and noted the Greenbelt group is “working with some of the biggest food buyers in the country, including hospitals, where local food is helping to increase patient satisfaction. Every step we take to encourage the sourcing of local food, however small, benefits everyone.”

Designation system

The province also pledged Monday to hold consultations with stakeholders on a new provincial designation system — a system it said could help promote foods of a particular region, or standard of production, or a “unique product attribute.”

Kathleen Wynne, the province’s premier/agriculture minister, had specifically pledged while running for the Liberal leadership earlier this year to re-introduce McMeekin’s local food legislation.

The government, she said Monday, “will continue to work with the agri-food sector, including retailers and foodservice operators, to bring more Ontario food to the table.”

Foodservice distributor Gordon Food Service Ontario, for one, “has been working diligently with the support of the Greenbelt Fund to lay the groundwork for the rapid expansion of local foods among the broader public sector,” Jim Robinson, the company’s director of marketing and procurement, said Monday in the OFA’s release.

Related story:
Ontario set to legislate local food policy, Sept. 27, 2012

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