Healthy Food, Healthy Water


By: Lindsay Telfer 

If there are two things in this world that each and every one of us need, it is healthy food and clean water. That's why I spent last Thursday representing the Freshwater Alliance at a summit in Ottawa that was held to inform the development of a Food Policy for Canada. The importance of our freshwater voice in these consultations became increasingly apparent as the day went on.

The new policy has the opportunity to examine the socio-economic, environmental and cultural intersections between food production, distribution and waste. It will establish priorities for how Canada's food systems develop into the future and will detail action opportunities to advance the policy’s goals.

At the summit, I often found myself to be  the lone freshwater voice in conversations on how our current food system interacts with water. Despite this, it is increasingly apparent that marrying healthy food production with healthy waters is imperative. Harmful algae, hastened by runoff carrying fertilizers and animal waste from agricultural production, is wreaking havoc on lakes across the country. Lake Winnipeg and Lake Erie are iconic examples of this, although small lakes in every province are impacted. A recent study analyzing data from 246 lakes, ponds and reservoirs across 10 Canadian provinces over a 10-year period found the presence of cyanobacterial toxin microcystin (a toxic bacteria found in blue-green algae) in every province in Canada. It also revealed that 35% of lakes surveyed had microcystin levels exceeding the Canadian drinking water guideline, and 9% of lakes exceeded the proposed Canadian recreational guidelines.  

The Our Living Waters Network is advancing the goal for all waters in Canada to be in good health by 2030. To achieve this goal, we must address the challenges that food production, distribution and waste pose to Canada's waters. In WWF-Canada's National Freshwater Health Report, released earlier this month, agriculture was a major driver of water pollution in Canada's southern watersheds. In the north, the problem is not so much agricultural impacts but industrial impacts on subsistence food supplies.

 It’s clear that food systems are inextricably linked to water and water health. The development of the Canadian Food Policy presents a rare opportunity to effect important change to advance healthier food and water. The freshwater community in Canada would do well to pay close attention to this policy development!

 To that end, I invite you to take a few minutes and speak up for healthy water and food in  Canada as the government continues to carry out these consultations.

 Here are a few ideas that emerged in Ottawa last week:

  • Developing (and implementing) a national nutrient reduction and retention strategy designed to reduce (or eliminate) agricultural contributions to eutrophication and harmful algae outbreaks in Canada's lakes;

  • Advancing open-access data hubs to aggregate data on agricultural inputs to rivers, lakes and aquifers;

  • Greater adoption of green infrastructure across rural landscapes to decrease nutrient run-off from agricultural lands;

  • Assurance that traditional lands and waters will sustain the harvesting needs of Canada's indigenous communities,and that if pollution renders harvesting unsafe, immediate remediation plans be adopted to return waters to good health;

  • A federally funded and supported pan-Canadian water quality monitoring network;

  • Use of shared governance models to guide implementation of food policy over the long-term.

 This is just the start of a conversation. What do you think of these ideas above? What ideas do you have for how Canada's long-term food policy could advance goals for clean, healthy and accessible waters? Please share with us – and with the Government of Canada – as they compile input on this important conversation!