Ontario’s “Local Food Act”

On Monday of this week, the Ontario government re-introduced the Local Food Act. The new Bill 36, “An Act to enact the Local Food Act, 2013” (pdf) contains two provisions generating most of the response in the press: local food procurement and Local Food Week. Some have complained that the Act would replace “Ontario Agriculture Week” with “Local Food Week” -by celebrating both in the week before Thanksgiving.

Local food procurement by public sector organizations is the focus of most of the Act’s provisions, which lay the groundwork for mandated “goals or targets” for various  sectors. These goals or targets are a way of addressing one of the practical constraints to encouraging procurement of local food in the public sector: metrics**.  Research on Ontario’s health care sector suggests that these mandated “goals or targets” are only half of the ‘metrics’ that are required. The report’s authors found that the province must first establish clear and definitive boundaries around the concept “local food” -and how it is to be measured- and then give public sector organizations the opportunity to establish baselines. This is the approach used by the Canadian Environmental Law Asoociation’s model bill [Ontario Local Food Act 2013 – pdf], which contained -as a first step- the assessment of existing local food procurement (along with production, processing, and distribution).

One of Ontario’s opposition parties has suggested that the province needs more food terminals, modelled on the Toronto terminal that handles most of the current produce sold in Ontario. Regions across Ontario (from Peterborough to PerthSimcoe to Ottawa) are currently taking action on their own to establish regional food hubs that would provide aggregation, processing and distribution infrastructure to service regionally-determined needs. Anyone who follows the ‘Fortnightly Feast‘ on this page knows that, just across our borders, the state governments of Michigan and New York are investing economic development money into the construction of “food hubs” to help drive regional recovery.

 

**(Note: other practical constraints to public sector procurement include i) the BPS Procurement Directive‘s non-discrimination clause; and ii) group purchasing. A recent policy report on local food procurement in Ontario health care concluded that even allowing local food exemptions for procurement contracts under $100,000 would have little effect, as most food services contracts (because of group purchasing) involve amounts larger than that!)

 

One thought on “Ontario’s “Local Food Act”

  1. Phil Post author

    I believe that a strong commitment to invest in regional food hubs -in the Local Food Act- would send the message to producers that the provincial government is also going to tackle the ‘other half’ of the public sector procurement issue: lack of regional food infrastructure in the province. This infrastructure would facilitate procurement by school food programs, public sector organizations, and local food programs that sustain low income communities. Given the additional benefits of diversified markets for Ontario farmers and increased efficiency in food transport, I can’t help but think that a commitment to investment in regional food hubs must be a core component of the Local Food Act.

    Phil Mount

    Reply

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