By Stephanie Bieri, University of Saskatchewan
The terms food security and food sovereignty are often used interchangeably, when in fact they are quite different. The FAO defines food security as the right for all people to have the physical, economic and social ability to access safe and nutritious food (FAO, 2013). Meanwhile, Food Secure Canada defines food sovereignty as the right for all people to have access to safe, nutritious and culturally appropriate food that is produced in an environmentally and ecologically sustainable manner. Food sovereignty also focuses on localizing food systems and giving producers and consumers the right to define their own agriculture and food systems (Food Secure Canada, 2018). In summary, while both food security and food sovereignty focus on the right for all people to access food, food sovereignty focuses on the environmental impacts of food production, while food security focuses on food distribution and neglects the manner in which food is produced. As a result, food security creates greater environmental damage and higher economic losses, primarily associated with food waste. Food waste is a growing concern in Canada; by taking a food sovereignty approach we can drastically reduce food waste in Canada by producing food in a sustainable manner that reduces the negative impacts on the environment and economy.
Food waste is defined as any food product intended for human consumption that is discarded at any point along the food supply chain (Government of Canada, 2019). Every Year, 35.5 million metric tonnes of food are wasted in Canada; that is roughly 58% of all food produced in Canada (Nikkel et al. 2019). In 2010 the annual economic impact of food waste in Canada was estimated to value $27 billion (Gooch, Felfel, and Marenick, 2010); by 2019, it had increased to $49.5 billion (Nikkel et al. 2019). An article discussing food waste in Canada (Gooch et al. 2010) states that the largest contributing factor to food waste is consumer behaviour. It is estimated that more than half of food waste is generated by consumers, and as much as 32% of food waste can be avoided. Avoidable food waste costs the average Canadian home $1,766 every year (Nikkel et al. 2019). It is evident that food waste in Canada has a significant economic impact, however, it has a devastating environmental impact as well.
The majority of food waste ends up in landfills, where it generates incredibly high levels of methane and carbon. Modern food production is estimated to account for half of the human-generated greenhouse gas emissions (GHG); food waste alone is responsible for 3-4% of global GHG emissions (GRAIN, 2016). Food production in Canada emits 56.5 million metric tonnes of CO2 equivalence annually (Gooch et al. 2010; Nikkel et al. 2019). Finding more effective ways to manage food waste in Canada is critical, this is where food sovereignty can help.
Food sovereignty and food waste
Food security primarily focuses on global food distribution, and as a result, food is produced, processed and transported all over the world. The longer it takes for food to get from producers to consumers, the more food is wasted along the supply chain. Food sovereignty on the other hand focuses on localizing food production, this brings producers and consumers closer together; as a result, the transportation and storage time is drastically reduced, thus reducing food waste. Furthermore, food sovereignty localizes control and decision making; this allows local producers and consumers to make decisions that best suit the local social, economic, and environmental needs, making food production more sustainable (Food Secure Canada, 2018).
Food transportation and storage generate large quantities of food waste, and while food sovereignty can help to reduce food waste associated with transportation and storage, it is impossible to fully eliminate food waste. Moreover, consumers are the largest contributors to food waste, therefore, changing consumer behaviour will be the biggest driver in reducing food waste in Canada. While food sovereignty alone cannot alter consumer behaviour, it can certainly help. A study reviewing the potential causes of consumer-related food waste stated that the largest contributing factors of high consumer-related food waste are a lack of consumer knowledge and a disconnect between consumers and food production (Aschemann-Witzel et al., 2015). Food sovereignty can help to address these issues as it focuses on building knowledge and localizing food production, thus, bring consumers and producers closer together creating a more transparent food production system (Food Secure Canada, 2018).
What we can do
Government policies play an important role in the fight to reduce food waste. Many of the legislations currently in place, such as organic waste management and marketing regulations, have a negative impact on the level of food waste, the economy, and the environment (Gooch et al. 2010); fortunately, the action is already being taken. In 2017, the Government of Canada began developing the Food Policy for Canada which appears to be taking a sovereignty approach by focusing on achieving food security in Canada while aiming to reduce food waste, make food production more environmentally sustainable, and support local communities The Canadian Food Policy Advisory Council, consisting of members of academia, agriculture and food industry, indigenous communities, and civil society, was formed to support, implement, and report on the new policy. The government has invested $134 million towards implementing the new food policy. This money will be used to invest in new technology and innovation; support northern and indigenous communities; project collaboration between government, industry, and communities; create new programs, such as the National School Food Program (Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, 2019).
While the new Canadian Food Policy is a huge step in the right direction to addressing Canada’s food waste crisis, it will take years to implement and see results. We all play a vital role in reducing food waste, here is what we can do right now:
- Producers: The food supply chain begins with you and reducing your food waste will help save you money. Advertise and market your products locally, such as the farmer’s market; collaborate with other producers to avoid overproduction; support and adopt new innovative technology (Government of Canada, 2019).
- Packers, Processors and Retailers: Excellent inventory management, communication and information sharing between manufacturers, distributors and retailers is important (Government of Canada, 2019). As retailers and manufacturers you can utilize recycling and composting programs; partner with local producers, to cut down on storage and transportation time; partner with local food banks to donate excess food, thus reducing food waste and food insecurity (Retail Council of Canada, 2018).
- Consumers: As consumers, we are responsible for most of the avoidable food waste. Meal planning to prevent excess buying and proper storage of food to prevent spoilage are easy steps to help reduce your food waste and save you money (National Zero Waste Council, 2020). Take the food sovereignty approach, try to buy local, this will reduce storage and transportation time, thus reducing the likelihood that food will spoil and be wasted.
Reducing food waste in Canada is of great social, economic, and environmental importance. It is vital that we make changes to our food production system to ensure that we have a sustainable future and achieve food security for all.
My name is Stephanie Bieri; I was born and raised on a small family farm in Northeastern British Columbia. I am currently in my sixth year of university at the U of S; I have a Bachelor of Science in Animal Bioscience, and I am currently in my third year of Agribusiness. While I am passionate about all things agriculture, my particular interests include livestock production and marketing. In my spare time, I enjoy outdoor activities, reading a good book, and travelling.
Regardless of where my career in agriculture takes me, I hope to remain a strong advocate and continue to raise awareness for the agriculture industry.