On February 19, the federal Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food, the Honourable Marie-Claude Bibeau, announced the creation of an advisory council to guide the Ministry on food-related issues. The Canadian Food Policy Advisory Council, the first of its kind in Canada, brings together 23 industry professionals with diverse expertise and perspectives from across the food system. “Whether it’s food insecurity, food fraud, food waste, or promoting the good stories of our agricultural producers, collaboration is the key,” said Bibeau. “Each of these members has a unique set of experiences and knowledge that will help improve the way Government programs are developed and implemented.”
Mohawk Medbuy congratulates Wendy Smith, Contract Specialist for St. Joseph’s Health System GPO’s (SJHS-GPO) MEALsource program on her appointment to this national advisory council.
Wendy has spent the last 10 years working in institutional nutrition services in healthcare for SJHS-GPO, which facilitates food contracts for 33 health care nutrition service operations in Ontario as well as the Ontario Student Nutrition Program.
How did you become involved in this national initiative?
I’ve been involved in many projects inside and outside of the health structure, trying to advance the food system in Ontario because it’s in trouble. This is the reality: if we close the border in Ontario, we’re out of food in eight days. That’s how reliant our food system is on imports right now and it’s scary. We don’t process food anymore in Ontario, agriculture is being eaten alive by development. This is a very deep issue for me and like many others, I have been championing for a National Food Policy for a long time. I found it so surprising that in a country like Canada, where we have so many regional differences, there wasn’t a national food strategy.
When the government began creating the policy, the Dieticians of Canada advocated for a council of experts. The nomination process opened in July of last year, and Franco Naccarato, Executive Director of Meat and Poultry Ontario, suggested adding a public buyer to the council. That’s how I became involved.
The Federal Government has unveiled their National Food Policy called Everyone at the Table. What are the key takeaways of the policy?
There are four key areas: help Canadian communities access healthy food, make Canadian food the top choice at home and abroad, support food security in Northern and Indigenous communities, and reduce food waste. According to the Greenbelt Foundation, the average patient plate in Ontario travels 4,500 kilometres. That’s unacceptable. We need to support the manufacturers we have. Processing and preserving food is very important.
Health care across Canada spends 4 billion dollars feeding patients. Imagine if we had the opportunity to do good with that money? We have policies in place now that do not support the food system but that’s going to change.
How has this announcement been received in your community of colleagues and partners?
MEALsource has been collaborating with partners across the food system for a decade to advocate for public good in procurement and having a seat at this table is a huge opportunity. I’ve received massive support from vendors, project partners and Members on moving forward with this issue. We all clearly recognize what the barriers are and the opportunity to have a voice at that table from a public sector perspective is really exciting.
What do you hope the outcome of this policy and the involvement of the council will be?
I believe that building bridges across the supply chain is the key to removing barriers to accessing healthy nutritious food for the people served in an institutional setting. This national policy is an opportunity to break down silos across levels of government, across ministries, and to really express the importance of a robust food system in the country.
Right now, we buy on the basis of saving money. Value-based procurement is vital in food service. We have to recognize the importance of setting up baskets that support medium and small producers when we go to market. We have to educate Canadian producers and manufacturers on how to play the game. It’s easy to get people passionate about food. We’re moving in the right direction and I’m excited about what lays ahead.
Mohawk Medbuy recently announced their acquisition of SJHS-GPO, which provides sourcing solutions specifically focused on capital equipment and food/nutrition to 450+ health care Members across Canada. The transaction closes on April 1, 2021.
To learn more about Canada’s first-ever Food Policy and Advisory Council, click here
To learn more about MMC’s recent acquisition, click here.