Home News University of Winnipeg the first to sign provincial food charter

University of Winnipeg the first to sign provincial food charter

by Archives April 1, 2008

WINNIPEG (CUP) – Food security – including the availability and cost of food – is becoming an increasingly important global debate. The University of Winnipeg is now the first Canadian university to take that debate seriously, signing a province-wide charter on food security.
The University of Winnipeg became the first Canadian university to sign a food charter on March 13.
“If the university takes a stance, we’re a big presence that other organizations start taking notice,” said Laurel Repski, University of Winnipeg’s vice-president of human resources, audit and sustainability.
“I think we can educate and contribute to economic development in the community if we can find areas to source locally.”
Now, the Manitoba Food Charter (MFC) believes that universities could serve as inspiration for other organizations who might be considering joining a food charter.
“Through education you’re looking at food security at the holistic, but also at the operational level,” said Kreesta Doucette, executive director of the Manitoba Food Charter (MFC).
Food charters are one-page documents proclaiming a commitment to food security. They are usually composed by cities or municipalities and include only one signatory.
But in May 2006, Manitoba became the first province to instate a regional food charter across a huge geographic area.
“By doing that you reflect the realities of the food system, because it involves northern and rural producers,” said Doucette.
“A province-wide charter involves the provincial departments that deal with food security,” he said.
After more than 70 rounds of consultation, the MFC outlines the ideal relationship between food producers and consumers, pushes for better food security education and ensures the availability of “nutritious and affordable food” from local producers and balanced by international trade – the crux of food security.
But while food may be available, access to that food is often questionable because of its cost and distribution. According to a 2007 report from the Canadian Association of Food Banks, just over 700,000 Canadians received groceries from food banks every month last year.
“There’s probably just under 80,000 people in B.C. who receive food on a monthly basis,” said Arlene Kravitz, director of communications at the Greater Vancouver Food Bank Society.
“I agree people should have access to food, that’s why I work here . . . but does [a charter] mean everybody has food, I’m not sure.”
Vancouver established its food charter February 15, 2007.
Experts also recognize this discrepancy.
“Food charters by themselves will not offset food security, because you need the policies and action that will make them come true,” said Cecilia Rocha, director of the Ryerson University Centre for Studies in Food Security.
The value of food charters lies in their ability to set the tone of discussion, she said.
“Food charters are important in terms of guidelines for policies that will provide the community with a direction of where they want to go,” she said. “It might take time for these principles to be operationalized, it’s a policy process.”
The real benefactors of food charters should be local farmers, whose produce would be guaranteed a local audience. But the reality isn’t always that simple.
Many local farming organizations have agreements in place guaranteeing a quota of local purchases. These agreements are the way provincial governments support local agriculture.
As such, farming communities rarely need the charters’ emphasis on local food. Despite this, though, most farmers welcome food charters.
“The effect [of a food charter] is indirect, it perhaps increases the awareness of locally grown food . . . and makes people more aware of the effects international trade agreements have on the local economy,” said Karen Armstrong, assistant manager for the Manitoba Chicken Producers.
“We’re able to grown canola. Not many states in the U.S. are able to grow it, so we trade them canola for oranges,” said Carol Dalgano, a grain and oil seeds farmer from Newdale, Manitoba. “We can’t grow bananas and oranges.”
“How it pulls people together is what makes it more than a piece of paper,” Doucette said of the Charter’s provincial approach.
Rocha thinks that it’s about time food security received wider public attention.
“For the longest time, people didn’t even think of food security in urban areas,” Rocha said, noting that food charters fit well in the hands of provincial and regional partnerships.
“There are a lot of things that cities do on [matters of] food [which] depend on other levels of government,” she said. “There are different circles of policy and action that need to come together for food security.”
The MFC is signed by a number of departments from the provincial government, rather than the government as a whole. But those signatory departments helped fund the consultations and are taking the suggestions to heart, said Doucette.
MFC’s Doucette said that other regional organizations are expressing interest in the Manitoba Charter’s model. These include Food Down the Road Kingston in Ontario, and a group in B.C.
Toronto was the first Canadian city to introduce a city-wide food charter in 2001 and several other municipalities have since followed in its footsteps.

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