Just over a week ago, I had the pleasure of attending The Future of Food Law and Policy conference in Halifax, Nova Scotia.
But Lauren, this is a municipal law blog so why do I care about food! Part of me is tempted to ask the rhetorical question of "do you eat?" and end the matter there, but then I would not be doing this post justice. Here are a few key takeaways on why food law and policy issues are good to have on the municipal law radar:
Last year Prime Minister Trudeau instructed the Honourable Lawrence MacAuley to "develop a food policy that promotes healthy living and safe food by putting more healthy, high-quality food, produced by Canadian ranchers and farmers, on the tables of families across the country". The Minister has assembled a team to produce on this mandate. As with other federal and provincial initiatives, there is often a downloading of responsibility onto municipal entities. It is hard to say what the municipal role in a national food strategy will be at this point, but there is sure to be one.
There are also grassroots efforts to develop local food charters. Often, these are policy documents developed by community-interest groups but nevertheless can have impacts on municipal decision-making. Consider theWaterloo Region Food Charter, developed by the Waterloo Food System Roundtable, as an example of a local food policy document.
2. Increasing awareness on the issue of disappearing farmland.
One of the presentations from last week's conference was by Dr. Cameron, an Associate Professor at Dalhousie University's Agricultural Campus. Dr. Cameron recently co-authored a study on Agricultural Land Use Planning in Canada. The presentation pointed out that the rate of prime farmland loss in Canada is increasing, despite certain planning measures (like the many references to prime agricultural land protection in the 2014 Provincial Policy Statement). Between 1971 and 2001, over 1.4 million hectares of prime farmland was diverted to other uses, between 2001 and 2011 the number rose to 1 million hectares.
As a result of local decision-making responsibility for land-use, municipalities play a key role in farmland protection.
3. Local pressure to create sustainable, local food systems.
Backyard chickens, public space-food production, farmers markets and agri-tourism are only a shortlist of items you might find discussed at municipal council meetings nowadays. Call them consumers or call them constituents, they all eat! Thus, as food-consciousness increases so too will the pressure for municipalities to enable food and agriculture economies.
Interested in learning more about this conference? Or how municipalities can be proactive when it comes to food issues in the area? As always, we are available to discuss by phone or email.