The key policy challenges for achieving this goal revolve around traditional conceptions of individual responsibility vs. state intervention. The Canadian policy system and constitution remains caught up in the 18th/19th century British perceptions of morality and poverty. In many ways, the policy instruments to assure everyone can afford a nourishing diet are developed, understood, and effective, but decision makers are reluctant to apply them because of how they perceive the expenses, impacts on labour markets, and deservedness of those living in poverty, unemployed and food insecure.
Policy instruments in this area are underdeveloped. Decision makers have relied on the market to fulfill its theoretical purposes, to properly allocated resources in efficient ways, but it has regularly failed to do so in the Canadian food system. In particular, planning and coordination processes, structures, and instruments are weak.
Despite its centrality to human health, decision makers do not think of the food system as a public sector as it does health care, education, and certain social services. Consequently, they do not implement instruments that properly integrate food system functions with existing public services. Since much of our social service infrastructure is under provincial jurisdiction, it is more challenging for the federal government to intervene.
Canada has had significant success minimizing well-characterized biological hazards, but significantly more difficulty with chemical and genetically engineered ones, particularly related to low dose applications and chronic exposure. Decision makers have been reluctant to examine how the structure of the food system actually creates or augments safety hazards. The decision making process does not account for issues regarding the adoption of sustainable diets.
Many sustainable resource management problems and solutions are well understood but the instruments employed to address them are in no way commensurate with the scale of the challenges. Decision makers are reluctant to confront existing notions of private property rights and many elements of market function that are contributing factors.
The failure of decision makers to fully appreciate the significance of food and food systems for properly functioning societies also means that it fails to assure food system actors sufficient income to fulfill their core functions. An excessive reliance on market functions to allocate resources is failing.
Given that everyone eats, then we all have a stake in how the food system functions. Traditional interpretations of who has expertise and government accountability make decision makers reluctant to engage with a wider set of actors. Concentrated economic power provides more influence to a small set of firms.
As with income, decision makers do not have a coherent approach to assuring a vibrant and effective food system workforce. The presumption is that labour markets work, there will be enough farmers with need of significant state intervention, and that importing workers is a viable compensatory mechanism to address shortfalls. This approach is failing and decision makers have been slow to respond. Equally important, many people want to feel good about what they do, to contribute to sustainability, equity and health, but our policy systems do not recognize this.
In many ways, interventions across all the goals are related to culture change. Many different forces, often spontaneous and unpredictable, have influence on food and cultural processes. Others, however, are deeply personal and historical, sometimes oppressive, sometimes liberating, and resistant to change. Many food and cultural discourses are deeply embedded in individual, organizational and societal beliefs and behaviours. Identifying suitable and direct state interventions to affect culture and help transition to sustainability, justice, and health is often very challenging, so many instruments in this domain are designed to have a shaping influence rather than direct impact. At the early stages of transition, the state is typically complicit in the dominant discourses which makes interventions more challenging to implement.
Canada has a long history of participation in international discussions, fora, and instruments, but alternates between being overly assiduous in domestic implementation to comply with its international commitments or being overly weak. Application of trade agreements falls into the former category, and Right to Food conventions fall into the latter. As a result, there is typically significant contestation among and across different levels of government, and between governments and civil society organizations.