Good Food Policies for the Economy

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Background Information

Food and Farming: One of the Largest Drivers of Ontario’s Economy

  • Food processing and farming employs as many or more Ontarians as the auto sector.[i] In 2008 food manufacturing alone employed more people than the automotive industry in the GTA.[ii]
  • Hundreds of rural communities depend on jobs created through agriculture and food. The $1.2 billion fruit, vegetable, and meat sector represents: 7,500 fruit and vegetable farmers and their families, 30,000-plus non-family on-farm jobs, 19,000 cattle farmers, 2,800 hog farmers.[iii]
  • Ontario is home to 3,500 food processors that contribute more than $32.5 billion to the economy and employ almost 120,000 people.[iv]

Growth Potential in the Food and Farming Sector

  • Total retail sales of certified organic products has been growing between 15 to 20% per year since the 1990s. Between 2006 and 2009, retail sales nearly doubled, with current sales estimated at $2 billion.[v]
  • Currently, Canadian organic growers only produce approximately 15% of what we consume, with most organic imports coming from the US.[vi]
  • Between 2003 and 2005 the number of certified organic processors in Ontario tripled from 43 to 155.[vii]
  • Recent polls showed that Ontarians prefer local food. 54% always check labels to see where their food comes from, 79% prefer to buy locally grown food, and 91% would buy more local food if it was made more convenient[viii]
  • Small and medium enterprises constitute more than 50% of Ontario’s food processing activity.[ix]

Threats to the Food and Farming Sector

  • 52% of Ontario’s farmers are losing money and most Ontario farmers earn most of their income from off-farm jobs.[x]
  • Since 2000, farmers have been spending an average of 86 cents in expenses for every dollar that they earn.[xi]
  • In 2006 there were 10,309 fewer farms in Ontario compared to 1996. In only five years, between 2001 and 2006, there was a 3.1% decrease in the number of farmers.[xii]
  • In just two years, between 2007 and 2009, six major Ontario fruit and vegetable processing facilities closed. Calculations estimate that this led to the loss of 30,000 on-farm jobs and 8,700 food-processing jobs.
  • The number of abattoirs in Ontario decreased from 267 in 1998 to 152 in 2010.[xiii]
  • Small and medium sized start-up enterprises can require up to $2 million in funding.[xiv]


The food and farming sector is one of the lariigest drivers of Ontario’s economy. Further, there is huge potential for growth in this area of the economy.  The largest areas of growth in the market are local, organic and sustainably produced foods. Consumers are demanding these products, and Ontario’s farmers and processors could deliver them.  Additionally, markets for ecological services could yield even greater economic growth for the province in the long-term.

At the same time the food and farming sector faces many challenges. The number of farms and farmers is shrinking quickly. Limited access to land, capital, and training keeps new and diversified farmers out. Existing farmers have a difficult time saving for retirement, planning for succession, and finding ways to make an adequate living.

Further, the primary processing sector, which provides a vital service to Ontario farmers, and enables them to reach broader markets, is shrinking. Punitive enforcement of regulations and a lack of support to primary processors is undermining this sector.

Focusing on the future of food and farming in Ontario is smart economic policy.

Steps in the Right Direction

  • In 2008, the Government of Ontario announced a 4-year Ontario Market Investment Fund, which is in intended to promote consumer awareness of Ontario-produced foods and improve consumer access to locally produced foods by supporting industry and local food network marketing and coordination efforts

  • Ontario supports the Broader Public Sector Investment Fund to promote the use of locally grown food in workplaces, schools, hospitals, and other public sector institutions.

  • In March 2011, the Ontario government committed to providing new risk management programs for grain and oilseed, cattle, hog, sheep and veal farmers to protect farmers from market fluctuations beyond their control.

  • The Ontario Provincial Policy Statement (PPS) and the Ontario Greenbelt Plan both support the production or agricultural and natural heritage lands in the province.

Moving Forward: Good Food Policy Ideas

Support the Growth of a Local Food Economy

• Support Local and Sustainable Food Procurement for Institutions: Develop local and sustainable food procurement targets for public sector institutions and provide incentives and supports to enable them to meet the targets.

• Provide Grants and Loans for Local Processing: Consolidate and expand local food value added and processing grants and loans.

• Support Small and Medium Food Processors to Meet Regulations:Review existing food safety regulations and enforcement to ensure that they are appropriate to different scales and are outcomes oriented rather than prescriptive. Ensure that food safety enforcement enables existing and new small and medium food processors navigate regulations and provide support for compliance with food safety regulations.

• Enable On-Farm Value-Adding: Provide relief from municipal taxation and zoning restrictions for on-farm value-added enterprises.

• Continue and expand the Ontario Marketing Investment Fund: Expand OMIF to also include strengthening regional supply chain development and developing regional food hubs.

Ensure the Agricultural Future of Ontario

• Train New Farmers: Provide funding and support for new farmer training.

• Make Capital Available to Farmers: Work with farmers and financial institutions to develop shared savings plans, pension plans, and grants, loans, and operating capital for new and established farmers.

•  Preserve Agricultural Land: Enact plans and policies to ensure that all prime farmland remains in production.

Harvest the Whole Value of Ontario’s Agricultural Land

• Pilot Ecological Goods and Services Programs: Fund new Alternative Land Use Services pilot projects across the province to further investigate the efficacy of community-based environmental action.

• Quantify Impacts: Develop quantification protocols to measure the value of on-farm ecological services such as carbon sequestration sites, groundwater recharge areas, vegetative filter strips, and wildlife habitat.

• Develop Markets: Develop market mechanisms to allow farmers to be compensated for the ecological goods and services they provide.

[i] Greater Toronto Area Agriculture Action Committee (GTAAAC) (2011). Food & farming: An action plan 2021. Food and farming in the Golden Horseshoe. Page 2.

[ii] GTAAAC (2011). Food & farming: An action plan 2021. Food and farming in the Golden Horseshoe. Page 9.

[iii] Baker, L., Campsie, P., & Rabinowicz. (2010). Menu 2020: Ten good food ideas for Ontario. Prepared for Sustain Ontario. Available at: Page 16

[iv] Ontario Ministry of Agriculture Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA) (2011). Start, Manage and grow a business: Food processing. Food industry facts. Available at:

[v] Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC). (2010). Canada’s organic industry at a glance. Retrieved from:

[vi] MacRae, R., Juhasz, M., Langer, J., & Martin, R. C. (2006). Ontario goes organic: How to access Canada’s growing billion dollar market for organic food. Prepared from World Wildlife Fund Canada & the Organic Agriculture Centre of Canada. Available at:

[vii] Macey, A. (2004). Certified organic: The status of the Canadian organic market in 2003. Prepared for Agriculture Canada. Available at: AND Macey, A. (2006). Certified Organic Production in Canada 2005. Available at:

[viii] Local Food Plus (2011). Get Certified. Sources: Friends of the Greenbelt Foundation, Ipsos-Reid, The Hartmann Group. Available at:

[ix] Baker, L., Campsie, P., & Rabinowicz. (2010). Menu 2020: Ten good food ideas for Ontario. Prepared for Sustain Ontario. Available at: Page 34.

[x] Baker, L., Campsie, P., & Rabinowicz. (2010). Menu 2020: Ten good food ideas for Ontario. Prepared for Sustain Ontario. Available at: Page 9.

[xi] Statistics Canada. (2006). Census of Agriculture counts 57,211 farms in Ontario. Available at:

[xii] Statistics Canada. (2006). Census of Agriculture counts 57,211 farms in Ontario. Available at:

[xiii] Ontario Federation of Agriculture. (2011). Where does your meat come from? Waterloo region food system roundtable. Available at: Page 4.

[xiv] Christianson, R. & Morgan, M. L. (2007). Grow local organic. Organic food strategy for Ontario: Value-added processing. Prepared for World Wildlife Fund Canada. Available at: