First implemented in 2018, Quebec’s bio-food policy is now at a crossroads. Though not well known by the general public, this policy sets the direction for the entire bio-food sector, from what we grow in our fields to what we put on our plates. Its purpose is to guide fundamental changes in the way we produce, process and consume our food.
The socio-economic and environmental issues at stake leave no room for interpretation: Quebec needs to make major changes in the bio-food sector in order to ensure healthier, local and sustainable food for Quebec citizens. We need to implement ambitious structural measures to prepare for the future, and Quebec’s bio-food policy is the most appropriate framework in which to do so. The policy’s renewal, scheduled for 2025, is an ideal opportunity for developing new ways of doing things.
Recent crises, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, have demonstrated that manufacturing supply chains, largely globalized, are particularly vulnerable to socio-economic shocks. The bio-food sector is no exception, and the Quebec government has acknowledged this fact by making food autonomy a core element in its bio-food policy. It’s a step in the right direction, however, food autonomy remains an imprecise and fragmented concept in the bio-food policy. There are a few key proposals, but its potential is hampered by a lack of structural measures to support the transition of the bio-food sector. We need to feed Quebecers first, and we need to do it efficiently.
Many of the government’s recent investments made in the name of food autonomy support the production of ultra-processed foods. This inconsistency demonstrates that we need to better define food autonomy. In order to meet the challenges of the coming decades, there must be three clear policy orientations.
The first policy orientation must focus on the ecological transition. As Quebec begins to decarbonize its economy, a strong bio-food policy will help to support the transition. Quebec can get several birds with one stone by replacing food imports such as grains and legumes with diversified locally produced crops cultivated with sustainable farming practices.
Reducing the distance traveled by our food reduces GHG emissions. A greater diversity of crops grown in Quebec improves the health of our soil, which, by acting as a carbon sink, helps to fight global warming. Supporting the development of emerging plant crops such as buckwheat and dry beans and encouraging more plant-based meals, further helps to reduce the GHG emissions produced by the food system.
A healthy and nutritive supply
A second policy orientation of our food autonomy must be the quality and the nutritional aspects of our food. To be a leader, the Quebec government must support the development of a healthy and nutritious food system throughout the province, with meaningful actions included in the bio-food policy. The consequences of food choices on public health are well documented.
Rather than supporting the production of ultra-processed foods, the government’s food autonomy goals should instead strengthen channels that produce nutritious products. Many of them are waiting for favourable conditions in order to play a greater role in our economy and our food supply.
A local system
The third required orientation is to increase local bio-food production and processing. There is a huge socio-economic potential associated with the development of bio-food product channels throughout Quebec. We have the resources and the talent needed to develop an even better bio-food system across all regions of Quebec—a system that will be more resilient because it will reduce our dependence on imports. The concept of food autonomy should be developed in a complementary and inclusive way, at different scales ranging from local to provincial.
Where these three policy orientations meet, we find the nucleus of an ambitious and comprehensive bio-food policy. Food autonomy is an important motivation to renew our bio-food system, giving it the means to cope with the transitions and challenges that lie ahead. Now we need the will to get started.
This document was first published in Le Devoir
Colleen Thorpe, Executive Director, Équiterre
Thomas Bastien, Executive Director, Association de santé publique du Québec
Malek Batal, Canada Research Chair in Nutrition and Health Inequalities
Corinne Voyer, Director, Quebec Coalition on Weight-Related Problems
François L’Italien, Researcher with the Institut de recherche en économie contemporaine
Marcel Groleau, President, Coalition Nourrir l’humanité durablement
Émilie Viau-Drouin, Executive Director, Coopérative pour l’agriculture de proximité écologique
Jean-Nick Trudel, Executive Director, Association des marchés publics du Québec
Jérôme Dupras, Canada Research Chair in Ecological Economics
This document's version is slightly different from the one published in Le Devoir.