Efficiency (DSC)

Identifying a more optimal diet

Ecological data collection - terrestrial

Research to optimize C4 plants and animal metabolic efficiency

Expanding fish stocks included in Integrated Fishery Management Plans (IFMPs)

Working within the trade deals

Environmental protocols

Reforming supply management

Value Chain Coordination (VCC)


Identifying a more optimal diet

A key part of data gathering is developing a fuller understanding of what optimal consumption looks like on a regional population basis and how far a region is from that scenario at any given time. Currently, we have only national and some regional food consumption estimates (see for example Desjardins et al., 2010; Ostry and Morrison, 2013). To determine current consumption, researchers rely on partial consumption surveys associated with the Canada Community Health Survey, and episodic national estimates provided by Statistics Canada Food Disappearance analysis. The 2015 Canadian Community Health survey-Nutrition [1] has provided up-to-date information on current fruit and vegetable intake, though it will be limited, based on two 24-hour recalls [2]. The supply management boards and private companies also access private data for their purposes, but this too is incomplete and usually expensive to purchase, even if available. All of this is inadequate. More optimal consumption targets can only be derived from Canada’s Healthy Eating Guidelines (see, for example, Desjardins et al., 2010), improved in the latest round of revisions (see Policy Actors). For years, the Guidelines have been criticized for being unduly influenced by the animal industries (see Ostry, 2006 for a historical overview) and the role of dairy and meat is highly contentious. Although there is agreement on the broad strokes of a population-based approach to dietary health, translating those agreements into servings of different categories of food/day is fractious. In general, an optimal diet means consuming more whole grains and pulses, less animal products, more fruits and vegetables (especially coloured vegetables), fewer refined oils and a movement away from soy, corn, and palm oil and more toward olive, flax, and canola, less sugar, and fewer processed beverages. Fish is a desirable part of the diet, but the state of the international and domestic fisheries suggests dietary requirements cannot be optimized. Equally important, the Guidelines do not adequately reflect the cultural and regional diversity of the country, so although there have been improvements they tend to promote the dominant food items and make it more difficult for certain cultures to adapt their diets to the guidelines. Many other industrialized countries are doing a better job of collecting food consumption data than Canada (Dianne McAmmond and Associates, 2000).

What does it cost to eat an optimal diet? We do not have good data on this either.  We do have data on what it costs to eat a minimally acceptable diet. Many health units use the Nutritious Food Basket (NFB) survey and some NGOs have also conducted surveys (e.g., Heart and Stroke). The NFB needs some tweaking, but it does serve to inform municipal policy in some parts of the country.  However, the NFB is not in any way an optimal diet. For almost 20 years, the deficiencies in the Canadian approach have been recognized. “The information summarized in this Environmental Scan clearly illustrates that Canada lacks the national food and nutrition surveillance information required to support policy and program development, to measure the impact and outcomes of policies and programs, and to anticipate emerging issues to allow a proactive response. This lack places Canada alone among western industrial countries to which we usually compare ourselves on health matters” (Dianne McAmmond and Associates, 2000).

Consequently, Canada needs:

  1. A new consumption survey that is administered every 5 years. The federal and provincial governments would need to provide funding to Statistics Canada, working in consultation with Health Canada and provincial health ministries, for the survey. This information could also help with development of a revised NFB instrument. As an interim measure, the federal government could buy private data to enhance what we currently understand about consumption patterns and then phase out these purchases as the new instrument came online. From the results on current consumption can be constructed more accurate optimal consumption patterns that account for regional and cultural differences.
  2. A revised Healthy Eating Guideline that takes better account of both existing consumption patterns, ethno-racial and cultural differences, and optimal consumption. Optimality can be defined relative to cultural and regional norms, taking account also of biotic and abiotic conditions that affect what regions can produce. The latest revisions take us some way in this direction (see Policy Actors, Federal Government).

Ecological data collection - terrestrial

Historically, production was designed around the biotic and abiotic conditions of the regions, and Canada devoted considerable resources to understanding them across the country. To some extent this was ignored post – WWII, with the advent of the chemical era, under the delusion that agrichemicals, tile drainage, and new crop varieties and animal breeds helped create environments in which regional conditions could in many ways be ignored. This is consistent with the capitalist impulse to homogenize realities so that the same goods can be sold across extensive landscapes. As a result, Canada has largely dismantled, or not refreshed, its capacity to understand regional landscapes and how to farm them with minimal resource requirements. Examples include the now limited use of the Canada Land Inventory, the failure to refresh the Soil Survey, the abandonment of agricultural land use monitoring on a national scale, and the data gaps in environmental monitoring programs and the Agricultural Census. All these deficiencies make it more difficult to design regional agricultural landscapes that suit the ecological parameters of the area. The challenges are made more complex by the absence of regional agricultural landscape planning, associated institutions, and the primacy of private property rights. Rural planning in Canada has been on the decline for many years. What planning exists is primarily urban and only slowly have urban planners begun to see food systems as part of their work (Pothukuchi and Kaufmann, 1999). In places where regional food system planning has been attempted (e.g., Waterloo, see Desjardins et al. 2011), major jurisdictional, regulatory and private sector obstacles impede progress. There are significant public and private resources dedicated to projecting supply of key commodities, but Canada does not currently have good public data on crop rotations or regional linkages between crop and animal production. Equally unknown is the amount of high-quality land producing foods of low utility for humans or compromised by conventional practices so that its food-producing potential is suboptimal. These challenges are indicative of the kinds of new data collection requirements to make DSC work.

1. Enhancing the CLI system

The system has not been significantly updated since 1995 and many land use changes have occurred during this period, in part because land use planning has not properly respected the data contained in the CLI. We lack both updated CLI data and strong regulatory requirements to use it in decision making. Municipal councils, although official plans in some provinces require the use of the CLI when making land protection and development decisions, have many loopholes that can be exploited, in part because provincial guidance on land use is not always mandatory for municipal governments. This is addressed further under Goal 5. The priority here is to update the CLI system, clearly showing how urban development has compromised Class 1-3 agricultural lands. Given the complexity of the task, an update is expensive.

2. Land use monitoring

Environment Canada abandoned its agricultural land loss monitoring program in the late 1990s. The provinces, with constitutional authority for land use, also do a weak job of monitoring agricultural land loss. This reality is a product of a very dysfunctional land use planning process in most provinces that allows the priorities of urban development to trump agricultural production. Although there are sporadic reports on farmland loss and forces covering national and regional jurisdictions, nothing systemic is currently undertaken. Having a systematic assessment that can be linked to improved planning tools and strategies that reduce farmland loss is particularly valuable. At the moment such studies are undertaken primarily by academics (e.g., Dr. Wayne Caldwell, University of Guelph).

Rather than re-establish a federal research unit, a smaller research coordination unit should be set up within Environment and Climate Change that ensures the existence of a network of regional researchers assessing the tools that best protect agricultural land in each region. The federal unit would provide a significant part of the funding and the frameworks for a coherent approach. The regional researchers would have independence from provincial and municipal land use planning efforts but be connected to them so that the results might have an impact on practice. Equally important, provincial planning legislation must require that municipalities report annually on land use change, including conversion of agricultural land (see Goal 5, Agricultural Land Protection).

3. Good data on crop rotations and crop-animal linkages

The foundation of ecological crop management is crop rotation and Canada does a poor job of collecting such data. The Census of Agriculture is largely useless on this score as are federal Farm Environmental Management Surveys. What useful data is collected is often held by provincial crop insurance agencies, commodity organizations, Environmental Farm Plan organizations, or private firms. Typically, there are significant restrictions on release of this data, partly because it is considered confidential business information, partly because the results are discouraging. Crop rotations are often increasingly limited, with significant negative environmental implications. A related problem is the difficulty linking crop rotation data to animal feed production and animal populations. This is important for understanding regional realities related to animals and feed.

The Statistics Act is too broad and enabling to address this level of detail. There are also difficulties with the financing and administration of the Census that suggest an alternate approach is more likely to be successful. A more viable strategy is to alter crop insurance legislation. Federally, crop insurance is covered under the Farm Income Protection Act. The Act is designed to permit the federal government to collaborate with the provinces on crop and production insurance and other income stabilization programs. Under the Act, regulations can be created, including regulations regarding Income Plan Records (section 27, Canadian Production Insurance Regulations). This section could be amended to require provincial crop rotation data, which could then be assembled at the federal level. The challenge is that the passing of an amended regulation requires that all participating provinces agree. A related difficulty is designing a consistent data collection format that allows for aggregation while respecting confidentiality of individual farms.

4. Good data on local food marketing and food flows

Data collection in this area is very weak in Canada. Statistics Canada, as part of the Census of Agriculture, should survey for local food marketing practices. This is done in the US through the Local Food Marketing Practices Survey of their Census of Agriculture (conducted every five years). This survey captures local food transactions beyond direct marketing by also collecting information on sales to restaurants, food hubs, and local food marketing nodes but does not fully recognize different production practices between conventional and local producers (Miller and Mann, 2020), a limitation that would need to be addressed. These data could help assess the efficiency of regional food flows.

Research to optimize C4 plants and animal metabolic efficiency

The global food system is highly energy inefficient. From their modelling of global food requirements and climate change mitigation, Bajželj et al. (2014:925) concluded that,

"It is striking how small the amount of food actually delivered is (0.7 PgC y-1; or 2490 kcal person-1 d-1), compared with overall cropland productivity (8.3 PgC y-1), or compared to harvest (2.4 PgC y-1). The discrepancies are mainly due to the inefficiency of supplying food calories as livestock products, and to losses in every step in the system".

Solar inefficiencies

Modern agriculture is designed around annual plants instead of the generally more energetically efficient perennials. And most of the annuals are C3 plants, rather than the more optimal C4s [3]. The C4s used are typically highly mismanaged in energy terms. Additionally, many fields are not properly oriented for solar capture, and structures to capture solar energy are poorly designed, e.g., greenhouses. As energy is always lost the more consumption stages it passes through, eating closer to the sun definitely helps with overall system energy efficiency. When humans consume products from animals that are fed crops humans can consume, or on land that can appropriately be devoted to human food crops, energy, and land use efficiencies decrease. In contrast, efficiencies tend to increase when animals are fed plant matter that humans cannot digest (including crop residues), on land better suited to pasture than field and horticultural crops (MacRae et al., 2010).

Metabolic inefficiencies (Smil, 2001)

North American agriculture focuses excessively on large animals that are metabolically inefficient. Cattle are very popular in North America, but pigs have 40% lower energy requirements than would be anticipated from their size, largely because of low basal metabolism. Cattle have much higher basal and reproductive metabolism, although dairy animals have a favorable conversion ratio for milk. Pigs also tolerate a wider range of environments. Chicken and eggs are next on the energy conversion scale, suggesting they warrant more attention in landscape-level planning for energy efficiency. Ultimately, fish are much more efficient feed converters than farm livestock, so it makes sense to devote more attention to ecological herbivorous and omnivorous fish systems in the longer term. To optimize both human and animal feeding systems, ruminants should eat primarily forages/grass and monogastrics residues and seeds (other than the dominant crop seeds). Numerous studies highlight how more metabolically efficient livestock can be on these diets (see studies cited in Wyngaarden et al., 2020).

Other countries have more appropriate balances. For example, only five percent of human-edible grains are fed to livestock in India compared to 60% in the U.S. Crop residues and wastes, feed oil seed crush, processing residues, and lower quality feed grade crops should be more effectively used for livestock. As well, pasturing hogs and poultry is feasible as part of the diet (Honeyman, 2005). Reducing feed losses will improve overall system efficiency. Additionally, animals fed such a diet tend to be leaner. The U.K. Institute of Grocery Distributors (IGD) and the Lean Enterprise Research Centre (LERC) found, for red meat production, that producers were feeding animals until they were overly fat. This is not only a waste of feed but also costs processors who have to put resources into trimming off unnecessary fat (Gooch et al., 2010). In the dominant production models, animals are typically raised in environments that are not conducive to their innate behaviours and this typically requires more energy to sustain them. For example, many beef cattle breeds are bred for primarily outdoor living and do not require barns. Pigs do well in more open structures such as hoop houses and open-air sheds (Honeyman, 2005). Such systems have lower energy use associated with the structure and may have lower overall energy use depending on the feeding regime (the biggest consumer of energy in hog systems) (Honeyman & Lammers, 2011).

At the efficiency stage, modelling of different land use and animal population scenarios is required, research that respects these energy, metabolic and ecological efficiencies. One of the few studies to undertake such an analysis (Wyngaarden et al., 2020) concluded that by feeding livestock more co-product feed, crop residue, food processing waste, and forages (ie. human inedibles) - in other words minimizing high-quality land devoted to producing animal feed with a focus instead on producing more direct human edibles - Ontario could use 40% less arable land for livestock.

Research councils have generally not viewed recent proposals on these research themes favourably, in part because they are unusual projects and complex and there is limited expertise available in Canada to undertake this kind of work. The consequence is that the project participants are typically far more knowledgeable than those on the review committees. As well, the thematic divisions within and across the main funding agencies do not facilitate well review of these kinds of multidisciplinary projects. These limitations suggest the need for a thematically coordinated stream of funding dedicated to these issues. We suggest that AAFC employ a Science Cluster style process to establish the funding, but given the nature of this work, matching grants from industry are not a viable program dimension.

Expanding fish stocks included in Integrated Fishery Management Plans (IFMPs)

According to Oceana (2017), based on 194 stocks, all major marine stocks in Canada, only 69% of fish stocks are included in IFMPs. Even more problematic, only 12% of stocks in critical condition (13% of total stocks) have a rebuilding plan in place. The health status of 36% of stocks is unknown due to data gaps.  Given the fragility of the resource, all stocks must be part of a plan. This is a longer-term undertaking, but at this stage, it is important to set out priorities, timelines, and strategies for collecting the necessary data and engaging the appropriate stakeholders for IFMP development. DFO has established a template for such plans that identifies data requirements and processes for creating a plan. See Goal 5, Sustainable fisheries management for more.

Working within the trade deals

In the Hill and MacRae (1995) framework, efficiency-stage strategies would be feasible within the confines of existing trade rules. This analysis identifies several avenues for promoting local/sustainable food, presented as programme and policy design elements. These elements are structured around current rules, permitted exemptions, and ambiguities in trade text language (see also Problems and International agreements for additional background). As this analysis has shown, a bundling of local and sustainable food systems is critical because it reduces the likelihood that such foods will be considered “like” conventional foods. Broadly speaking, the two main opportunities for supporting local/sustainable systems are targeted support programmes and procurement rules and processes.

Targeted support programmes

Canada appears to have subsidy opportunities under the WTO AoA. The heightened scrutiny of red and amber box measures appears to create some space for environmental supports because red and amber measures are both trade distorting and they intensify conventional production and associated environmental problems. This occurs directly because of the subsidy and indirectly because the subsidy exists within a policy environment where environmental regulations are typically poorly designed, enforced, or adopted (Mayrand et al., 2003). It appears that Canadian governments could impose increasingly demanding sustainability requirements on producers and supply chain actors to protect Canadian resources, beyond current environmental programming (see proposals under Goal 5). To minimize the likelihood of a trade challenge, any measure would ideally have several of the following design elements.

  • It should adhere to the green box criteria, with framing based on GATT Article XX that identifies exemptions for farmer support programmes that deal with the conservation of natural resources. To do this properly means linking environmental measures along the supply chain so that the product benefits are enhanced by their regionality. For example, the environmental benefits of Integrated Pest Management (IPM) or organic adoption in fruit and vegetable production are augmented by shortening supply chains with innovative distribution, reducing cooling and refrigeration requirements, and reducing supply chain waste (Lynch et al., 2011). An integrated strategy allows for additional GHG reductions and energy use efficiencies. In fact, such supply chain improvements can exceed the on-farm environmental benefits and also those of longer-distance supply chains (MacRae et al., 2013).
  • If the measure is categorized as amber box, it should cost less than the de minimus threshold; however, even more expensive programmes could still be designed and counted in Canada’s permitted amber box commitment because spending is significantly below the established limit, as long as a large number of expensive measures were not adopted at the same time.
  • It should explicitly be an import substitution programme, possible because the AoA does not explicitly prevent them, likely making them permissible Amber Box measures under the AoA.
  • It should involve a wide array of state and non-state actors in programme execution, but with attention to the degree to which the state might be viewed as the facilitator of the initiative, making all other NGO activities accountable to trade disciplines. For many disciplines, sub-national governments and para-governmental agencies may be exempt, so initiatives with these organizations in the lead may be acceptable.
  • It should incorporate the additional discipline of necessity. Even when a measure is non-discriminatory, is it the most effective way to produce a desired outcome? (Vranes, 2011). In other words, the more effective the measure is at accomplishing its objectives, the less contested it may be.
  • It should rely on private standards to drive change, which may be more suitable than state standards unless an international body such as Codex is developing an international version. Vranes (2011), from his legal analysis of relevant trade texts, advises against use of mandatory eco-labels, but suggests that voluntary ones are not per se discriminatory.

Regarding procurement, the AGP does permit tenders to outline technical specifications regarding performance (as opposed to design or descriptive characteristics), particularly when based on international standards, national technical regulations, or recognized national standards. Many EU member states support the expansion of local/sustainable food systems, and the EC appears to be supporting this through its Rural Development Strategy and other policy recommendations (European Union, 2011; Bell-Pasht, 2013). In the US, states have used language associated with exemption provisions for child feeding to favour local product in procurement contracts.  This approach is not directly linked to sustainable performance requirements, in contrast to the European approach (Bell-Pasht, 2013). Key elements of this approach include:

  • Using technical specifications of procurement contracts, related to the performance of the product or the process by which it was produced, to favour local food systems development, not broad principles and instruments, and to redefine value for money within procurement processes to include wider environmental and social benefits (Clark, 2011). For example, freshness criteria could be imposed that would make it difficult for long-distance goods to meet the requirement (Konforti, 2010). Other possibilities include specifying varieties of crops that do well regionally, or distance traveled and environmental performance.
  • Using the principles underlying an eco-label as technical specifications rather than using a label itself. European states are advised not to rely on eco-labels since they may be viewed as discriminatory.
  • Dividing food contracts into smaller lots to facilitate access by smaller producers. Certification of performance is encouraged but not the only performance measure considered (Bell-Pasht, 2013).
  • Creating procurements with set-asides for small and minority businesses or contracts for agricultural products that further agricultural support programs or human feeding programs. The AGP general exception for public interest measures to protect human, animal, or plant life or health has permitted Canada to undertake such approaches.
  • Exploiting exemptions for government procurement of products for government purposes without resale. This might cover, for example, food purchased for hospitals, prisons, and in some cases government employees. However, a close reading might be required to determine how to structure the language of provisions in these cases so as not to trigger a complaint.
  • Given thresholds in many agreements, designing programmes to fall under thresholds, and paying particular attention to which units are covered by the agreements.

Environmental protocols

Environmental protocols are central to many efficiency stage strategies. See Goal 5, Sustainable Food for details.

Reforming supply management

Many provincial marketing boards have tried to address the barrier to entry problem of high quota values in supply-managed commodities by piloting programs for young and/or small farmers that permit them to produce (see also Goal 8 New farmers).  Quota loan programs allocate quota as a loan for a fixed number of years, after which it must be purchased or returned. Marketing board programs vary in design, but all are relatively restrictive in terms of eligibility and the number of new entrants to be supported. Often the loaned quota has to be matched with owned quota. Other programs are designated auctions to selected new entrants. Ontario and Alberta have offered a program specifically to expand organic milk production.

Most quota loan programs focus on dairy, but Nova Scotia's Farm Loan Board offers loans on relatively flexible terms for quota purchase across all supply-managed commodities. However, the participating farmers are dependent on existing quota allocation processes, for example quota auctions, to take advantage of the loan program.  For many commodities, quota comes to auction relatively infrequently, so the opportunities to buy quota are limited.

The quota issue is ultimately linked to scale. Although supply management has to some degree mitigated farm consolidation, quota must be managed differently to diversify the farm base, both spatially and in terms of age of producers. Quota must be an instrument to manage farm size.

A number of changes must be made to quota rules:

  1. All provinces and all commodities should have quota loan programs and designated auctions for new entrants.
  2. Programs should not require quota matching, and sufficient quota should be allocated to have a viable operation. For many commodities, however, current minimum quota requirements are too high for small to medium-scale enterprises to purchase. The thresholds should be reduced.
  3. To expand the amount of quota available for new entrants, farms above a specified size should not be permitted to bid on new quota.
  4. Quota values should be capped as has been done by the Dairy Farmers of Ontario.
  5. When new quota is allocated because of expanded demand, that new quota should be distributed free of charge to eligible new entrants as is currently done by the Alberta Egg Producers. When new quota is available because of a retiring farmer, the quota should be pooled and allocated freely to new entrants but paid for collectively through checkoff fees (NFU, 2016). One of the conditions for free allocations is that the producer must follow a recognized and verifiable environmental protocol. This sets the stage for decapitalization of quota (see Substitution) and also allows for the pool of quota to be reduced as other demand - supply coordination measures take hold.
  6. Marketing Boards may need programs to expand processing capacity of alternative products as production increases. This is already being done by the Chicken Farmers of Ontario (the Artisanal Chicken program). The program targets new entrant processors with quota allocations for processing.

Small flock licensing is another tool utilized by some provincial marketing boards to facilitate alternative production methods, such as organic farming, by small-scale producers. The BC egg marketing board holds a 10,000-layer allocation for small flock certified organic farmers. Each participating farm can have up to 399 laying hens and must direct market the eggs. If these farms want to go beyond 399 layers, they receive priority status in the province's new entrants program. Ontario has a similar program for meat chickens (the Artisanal Chicken program) with 5% of the annual growth of quota allocated to licensed small farmers (300-6,000 meat birds per year) selling locally (NFU, 2016).

All chicken, egg, and turkey boards should have a small flock licensing program.

Value Chain Coordination (VCC)

Supply chain actors who normally compete are increasingly recognizing the need to collaborate to some degree to add value to products. This is especially important in regional and sustainable foods that need some kind of advantage to compete against imports. In this approach, firms will collaborate along the supply chain by sharing information and logistical supports. A key dimension of this sharing is demand information and the alignment of supply with that demand. Consequently, VCC can be seen as an efficiency-stage market response to the absence of DSC.

However, it's very difficult for the state to directly regulate VCC because its success in a capitalist market is largely based on the development of positive commercial relationships which form over time. Indirect interventions can, though, create a more favourable environment for VCC, including efforts to regionalize markets and create environmental protocols.



[1]  http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/82-625-x/2017001/article/14764-eng.htm

[2] See for limitations of this method FAO, 2004; Sharma 2015

[3] C3 and C4 refer to the metabolic pathways of carbon fixation in photosynthesis. Fewer plants are C4 and in evolutionary terms are likely more recent developments. C4 fixation is thought to be more metabolically efficient than C3.