03/19/2019 16:17 EDT | Updated 03/27/2019 10:06 EDT

Federal Budget 2019 Combats Food Waste With New National Policy

The aim is to increase access to healthy Canadian-grown and produced food.

Jonathan Hayward/CP
The inside of Nada grocery store is pictured in Vancouver on Jan 25, 2019.

OTTAWA — The Liberal government plans to spend millions to encourage Canadians to reduce food waste and eat local through new measures unveiled in its election budget Tuesday.

The proposals — pegged at $134.4-million — will establish Canada's first national food policy.

It includes new funding to build Canadian agriculture and agri-food sectors as "a trusted global source of healthy food." The central aim is to increase access to healthy Canadian-grown and produced food.

The plan sets aside a $20-million fund for projects that successfully pitch innovative ways to reduce food waste.

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Officials said the measure aimed at curbing food waste reflects concerns the government heard in public consultations with some 45,000 individuals. Other concerns that came up include worries about food fraud, and the availability and affordability of healthy local foods.

Food fraud occurs when manufacturers or producers misrepresent ingredients on a product label. A study last year by advocacy group Oceana Canada found that 44 per cent of seafood samples taken from Canadian grocery stores did not meet federal labelling requirements. Researchers also found that 55 per cent of samples taken in restaurants were mislabelled.

And more than half of the food produced in Canada ends up in landfills, according to a study released earlier this year.

Community food projects to get some help

The national food policy will also encourage consumers to buy Canadian products at home and abroad. The government is setting aside $25 million for a "Buy Canadian" promotional campaign to advertise agriculture products.

Farmers' markets, food banks, and community-driven food-related projects will also be eligible for additional financial aid over the next five years through a $50-million "local food infrastructure fund."

Northern and Indigenous communities will also receive funding through a new $15-million "northern isolated community initiatives fund" designed to help "community-led" projects buy equipment and help with skills training for food producers.

Equipment such as commercial-sized freezers and greenhouses, which are often costly, can help communities improve food security and reduce waste.

The new measures tabled in the 2019 budget come three years after the government pledged $64.5-million for Nutrition North Canada — the federal program that subsidizes the cost of perishable nutritious foods flown into northern communities. Liberals had pledged in their election platform to increase northern families' access to affordable healthy foods.

A 2014 auditor general report criticized the former government for its management of Nutrition North Canada, concluding that it failed to make healthy foods more affordable. Despite recent measures to revamp of the program in January, concerns remain over how the federal government will ensure the funding is passed on to help consumers' pocketbooks and not just retailers.

Spending related to the $134.4-million food policy will be spread over five years, shared between Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, and the Canadian Northern Economic Development Agency.

It comes three months after the government rehauled the official Canada food guide to encourage people to eat more vegetables and plant-based foods.

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