Efficiency (EM)

Integrate food systems into surveillance

Many have criticized the slow response of national and international agencies to the COVID emergency. Canada, for example, had diverted resources from its pandemic monitoring system the year prior to the pandemic. Given that food systems can be contributors to emergencies, as in the case of COVID, it is important to integrate food systems in the rebuild of Canada's surveillance system. This means having a broader understanding of how and where the food system can contribute to emergencies (cf. Lambou et al., 2021; see also Goal 4), and also having the right expertise and data collection as part of the new system.

Put food in emergency legislation

As identified in the introductory sections, food is sparsely present in emergency measures legislation, regulations, and plans. Emergency legislation and regulations at all FPT levels need to be modified to specify food or name food as a necessary good in emergencies legislation and to name agriculture as a necessary resource. British Columbia has the fullest conception of the role of food (limited as it is) and all FPTs should at a minimum be equivalent with the following additions:

  • A Minister can "procure, fix prices for or ration food"; most provinces/territories do not name all these powers;
  • Regulations would provide details on the circumstances of procurement, including private and congregate dining for social service facilities, and emergency workers;
  • Regulations would name all forms of food retail and acquisition as essential/priority services, including grocery and convenience stores, restaurants, public markets, community gardens, food box schemes, and Community Supported Agriculture projects, food charities, and shelters. During the recent Covid emergency, only a few municipalities, including Ottawa, Vancouver, and Thunder Bay had a wider understanding of essential food services, so naming all forms is critical to a more comprehensive response;
  • Regulations name support for the local agricultural region as a priority during the emergency;
  • Food is named as a requirement under Local Authority EM regulations.

Expand conception of resilience in emergency legislation

The federal EM strategy says, "resilient capacity is built through a process of empowering citizens, responders, organizations, communities, governments, systems, and society to share the responsibility to keep hazards from becoming disasters. Resilience minimizes vulnerability; dependence and susceptibility by creating or strengthening social and physical capacity in the human and built-environment to cope with, adapt to, respond to, and recover and learn from disasters."

Ecological resilience is absent from this conception and the human capacity networks in the food system are too limited. All this makes it more challenging to focus on prevention strategies. Ecological resilience is essentially the capacity of systems, whether natural or human-derived, during disturbances to limit damage and recover quickly. A core function of prevention work is to build that resilience capacity, and this would be a contradiction of much of the last 150 years of human intervention on the landscape which has largely undermined resilience (that is, most "natural" disasters are really the product of the interplay between natural forces and poorly designed human interventions, flooding being a primary example).

In part triggered by the weather-related emergencies of 2021, the federal government has announced it will develop a National Adaptation Strategy by the end of 2022, in consultation with multiple actors at all levels. The strategy is supposed to help improve Canada's resilience in the face of climate and related emergencies, and presumably, there will be billions of dollars allocated to implement the strategy. Ideally, then, whatever is produced should affect resilience thinking across the entire emergency management system. The challenges are numerous, including that the jurisdictional dilemmas are even wider with climate issues than they are currently in the EM system, given that federally, at least 5 departments are involved - Environment and Climate Change, Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, Infrastructure, Health, and Natural Resources - and their provincial equivalents (Radwanski, 2022). At this stage, Agriculture and Agri-food does not appear to have a significant role, which is a major oversight.

Reshape the role of food charities (including food banks)

Food charity has existed for centuries in Canada, with original individuals and religious organizations taking a lead role, later augmented by NGOs, particularly food banks which formally emerged in Canada in the 1980s. This caring community response has been particularly important during periods of significant economic downturn. But in the 1980s, the role of food charities started shifting, becoming a more permanent part of the anti-hunger landscape. With that came the common public perception that food banks were the central response to chronic hunger. Food banks, while stating publicly that their role should focus on emergency food distribution, on some level accepted their integration into this chronic response fabric, sometimes referred to as the "institutionalization" of food banking. They were in part responding to increased demand associated with the failures of the welfare state and the corporate food system to assure food security for the population (for some history and detailed analysis, see Riches, 1986; Riches, 2018). And to their credit, charities have been effective at collecting food (especially non-perishables) from industry and individuals and distributing it to some of those in need. They have demonstrated in previous emergencies their skills at distribution logistics (for example, the Eastern Canada ice storm in the late 1990s). It has also been clear for several decades that they are only able to provide food relief for a modest percent of those in need, and that only changes to employment, income security, health care systems, nation-to-nation relations, and the food system itself can address food insecurity. Recognizing these realities, many food banks have undertaken government advocacy to improve the income security system.

Many of the proposals on this site (see in particular Goal 1, Goal 2 Demand Supply Coordination, Goal 3, and Goal 8) are designed to address the roots of food insecurity in Canada. As they are implemented, the number of regular food bank clients should decline, which will allow for greater focus on the emergency aspects of their role, especially with better integration in the Emergency Response System.

Expand advisory networks

As discussed under Goal 7 Participation, Structures, and processes for regulatory pluralism, new mechanisms are needed to govern the behaviour of the food system.  As these new structures are created, they should be connected to the Emergency Preparedness system through the existing regulatory and communication channels.  These expanded networks will provide much wider intelligence on the state of the food system, its vulnerabilities and vulnerable populations, and appropriate responses. This will require specific changes to EM guides and protocols for each level of government. In exchange, these expanded networks will need training in EM procedures and practice so they can be effective participants. Many organizations and governments offer EM training, but it will be important to tailor such sessions to the needs of this expanded food network. At the municipal level, each city needs a permanent emergency food table of some kind, facilitated by the municipal government, but that engages governments, businesses, and NGOs involved in food system issues. Related to this, a city needs to understand its role not just as gatekeeper/protector related to an emergency, but also as co-ordinator/facilitator of food responses.  The Covid emergency revealed how marginalized and racialized communities are more negatively affected by the emergency and also be the limited response of many municipalities, so it is particularly critical that such communities be active participants in emergency response systems (Mihevc, 2020). Consistent with the changes proposed for emergencies legislation, food is named by all levels of government as a priority/essential service.