As COVID-19 continues to batter the economy, an increasing number of sectors are sounding the alarm about Canada's food security.

Below, is an open letter initially signed by 158 food and environmental organizations, academics, farmers, and sustainable-food advocates from across the country. Since then the list has grown to 163 signatures as of the publishing of the letter.

That April 3 letter to the Prime Minister and the Canadian Ministers of Agriculture, Fisheries, and the Environment urges “transformative” change to our food system.

April 3, 2020

Dear Prime Minister Trudeau, and Ministers Marie-Claude Bibeau, Bernadette Jordan, and Jonathan Wilkinson:

We, the undersigned, call for immediate transformative change to Canada’s food, agriculture, and fisheries systems from an industrial to an agroecological model. Agroecology is farming with nature to improve soil health, biodiversity, and natural ecosystem function; to increase the capability of land to sequester carbon; and to provide local, seasonal, healthy food. Its basic principles can also be applied to fisheries.

The coronavirus pandemic underscores the emergency need for this transformative change in order to enable ecological resilience and food security across Canada in the months and years to come. Agroecology also provides the single greatest opportunity for a resilient economy, meaning one that is decentralized, ecological, meets local needs, and offers widespread employment.

The United Nations and many non-governmental organizations, including Canada’s National Farmers Union, have made clear that industrial food, agriculture, and fisheries systems are major contributors to the climate crisis, the global loss of biodiversity, and the imminent extinction of one million species world-wide. In Canada, we have lost one-third of bird populations since 1970, and now risk losing wild bees, salmon, caribou, and other species upon which our ecosystems and food systems depend.

Besides environmental impacts, the industrial food, agricultural, and fisheries systems have resulted in negative social, economic, and health impacts, including collapsed rural economies, massive farm debt, decreased food security, and physical and mental health issues in both rural and urban populations. Food systems that do not respect nature, we are now learning, also greatly increase the risk of pandemics; as David Quammen, author of Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic recently wrote, “We disrupt ecosystems, and we shake viruses loose from their natural hosts. When that happens, they need a new host. Often, we are it.”

"As with the rest of the world, Canada does not have time to spare. We cannot subject our lands, rivers, oceans, health, and economy to another year of the industrial food system."

The UN and NGOs see agroecology as the solution to these crises. The UN’s 2013 report Wake Up Before It’s Too Late states, “we need to see a move from a linear to a holistic approach…which recognizes that a farmer is…a manager of an agro-ecological system.” Likewise, the NFU’s 2019 report Tackling the Farm Crisis and the Climate Crisis: A Transformative Strategy for Canadian Farmers and Food Systems notes, “agriculture must increasingly re-merge with nature and culture to create a much more integrated, life-sustaining, and community-sustaining agroecological model of human food provision, nutrition, and health.” And the International Commission on the Future of Food and Agriculture states in its 2019 report Food for Health that agroecology “combines quantity and quality and maximizes the benefits to the health and wellbeing of the planet and its people.”

Agroecology, while far more productive than industrial agriculture, focuses on long-term resiliency, not short-term profit, and therefore is part of an entirely different, but certainly not new, food system.

Agroecology is already well understood and projects around the world have proven its benefits. Such benefits are even possible over massive areas: John D. Liu’s documentary Hope in a Changing Climate depicts the large-scale ecosystem rehabilitation accomplished on the Loess Plateau in China, and the lessons from that project are now being applied to restoration projects in Jordan, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Kenya, and Spain.

As with the rest of the world, Canada does not have time to spare. We cannot subject our lands, rivers, oceans, health, and economy to another year of the industrial food system.

We call for the following shifts from an industrial model to an agroecological model to begin in spring 2020:

1. An immediate ban on the use of neonicotinoids, glyphosate, and other harmful pesticides (including herbicides, insecticides, and fungicides).

2. Immediate closure of fish hatcheries and a ban on trawling and transhipping.

3. An immediate end to government subsidies for industrial farming, and their replacement by government policies and assistance for regionally specific knowledge-sharing to support farmers’ transition to agroecological farming.

4. A public education campaign explaining agroecology and calling for backyard and community agroecological victory gardens.

5. Improved animal husbandry laws to ensure the health and wellbeing of livestock.

6. Support for the creation of ecological reserves and the protection, restoration, and expansion of forests, shelterbelts, riparian habitat, and wetlands.

7. The guarantee of food sovereignty for Indigenous peoples across this land, as well as adaptation of traditional Indigenous land knowledge and practices across Canada, as appropriate. Continuing down this path will be the next step in healing our relationship with the land and each other.

Sincerely,

Dr. Kristine Kowalchuk, University of Alberta

Food Secure Canada

Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment

Council of Canadians, Powell River Chapter, BC

Council of Canadians, Campbell River Chapter, BC

Council of Canadians, Edmonton Chapter, AB

Council of Canadians, St. John’s Chapter, NL

Food for Thought, Edmonton, AB

Keepers of the Athabasca

HealthyYEG.org

Ecology North, Yellowknife, NT

Safe Food Matters, Inc.

Green 13.org, Toronto ON

Manitoba Energy Justice Coalition

Toronto Non-GMO Coalition

Toronto Seed Library

Millions again Monsanto, Toronto

Beyond Pesticides Toronto

Earth Valley Organics

The Genetic Engineering Debate

Harvest Kenora, Kenora/Treaty 3, ON

Kids Right to Know Community Association

GenEarth.org

Just Earth

Pesticide Free Alberta

Ellen Schoeck, organic gardener since 1969, Edmonton, AB

Dr. Raquel Feroe, Fellow Royal College Physicians Canada, Edmonton, AB

Liane Faulder, journalist and author, Edmonton, AB

Dr. Mary Beckie, Community Engagement Studies, University of Alberta

Jenny Berkenbosch, Sundog Organic Farm, AB

Takota Coen, farmer and educator, Coen Farm, AB

Maryann Borch, farmer and homesteading skills educator, Good Note Community Farm, AB

Monika Igali, University of Alberta

Robert Wilde, Edmonton, AB

Rod Olstad, Edmonton, AB

Dr. Lu Carbyn, Adjunct Professor, Renewable Resources, University of Alberta

Jaynne Carre, MEDes, University of Calgary

Dr. Laurie Adkin, Comparative Politics and Environmental Studies, University of Alberta

Dr. Elisabeth Beaubien, Renewable Resources, ALES Faculty, University of Alberta

Scott Hall, Director Universal School Food Strategy, Maskwacis Education Schools Commission, AB

Eric Gormley, Edmonton, AB

Luke Wonneck, PhD Candidate, Sociology, University of Alberta

Paul Nelson, PhD Candidate, Sociology, University of Toronto

Kevin Van Tighem, conservationist and author, AB

Sarah Berger Richardson, Faculty of Law, University of Ottawa

Dr. Jennifer Vansteenkiste, SSHRC Post-doctoral Fellow, University of Waterloo, School of Environment, Resources and Sustainability (SERS); Balsillie School of International Affairs, ON

Dr. David Schmaus, Northern Alberta Institute of Technology, AB

Phoebe Stevens, PhD Candidate, School of Environment, Resources, and Sustainability, University of Waterloo

Jennifer Marshman, PhD candidate, Laurier Center for Sustainable Food Systems, Wilfrid Laurier University

K.E.Graves BHE'74, Truro, NS

Tonya Smith, Public Scholar/PhD Candidate, Faculty of Forestry, University of British Columbia

Dana Wood, Chef de Cuisine at Le Caveau Restaurant, Halifax, NS

Maureen Wyatt, Summerside, PEI

Dr. Harriet Friedmann, Professor Emerita of Sociology, Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy, University of Toronto

Katherine Koch, Head, Faculty Engagement (Sciences, Engineering and Business)

Library and Museums, University of Alberta

Dr. Deborah Barndt, Professor Emerita, Faculty of Environmental Studies, York University

Dr. Kathleen Kevany, Faculty of Agriculture, Dalhousie University

Dr. David Fletcher, People Development Ltd, Antigonish, NS

Dustin Bajer, educator, beekeeper, writer, Edmonton, AB

Dr. Sherry Pictou, Women's Studies, Mount St. Vincent University, NS

Lynn Siegal, Thornhill, ON

Lib Spry, director, playwright, PhD candidate, Queen’s University

Nick Aplin, Retired Engineer, Ottawa, ON

Michael Moore, permaculture instructor, Edmonton, AB

Thomasina Irwin, Edmonton, AB

Dr. Robin Buyers (retired), Community Worker Program, George Brown College, ON

Kiera Toffelmire, director, Programs and Partnerships, Second Harvest Food Rescue, Toronto, ON

Dr. Béatrice Lego, Campus Farm Coordinator, University of Toronto Scarborough

Marguerite Kephart, Montreal, PQ

Gini Dickie, Toronto, ON

Pauline Cashman, Toronto, ON

Ruth Anderson Donovan, Edmonton, AB

Irena Knezevic, School of Journalism and Communication, Carleton University

Margo Sheppard, Fredericton, NB

Breanna Phillipps, MSc. Candidate, School of Public Health and Health Systems, University of Waterloo

Rebecca Ellis, PhD candidate, Geography, Western University; Chair, Urban Agriculture Strategy Committee, London

Dr. Barbara Parker, Department of Sociology, Lakehead University

Dr. Tony Weis, Department of Geography, Western University

Bill Woolverton, President, Canadian Unitarians for Social Justice

Dr. Martha Stiegman, Faculty of Environmental Studies, York University

Jo Hayward-Haines, co-founder, Peterborough Pollinators, ON

Darcy Kaltio, Blueberry Commons Farm Cooperative, Powell River, BC

Corey Matsumoto, Powell River, BC

Lynn McIntosh, holistic nutritionist, Powell River, BC

Dr. Jenna Butler, Red Deer College, and farmer, Larch Grove Farm, AB

Thomas Lock, educator and farmer, Larch Grove Farm, AB

Susan Short, Skookum Food Provisioners Co-op, Powell River, BC

Steve Short, Skookum Food Provisioners Co-op, Powell River, BC

Pat Christie, gardener, Powell River, BC

Michelle Zutz, Powell River, BC

Dr. Ken Collier, Department of Economics (retired), Athabasca University, living in Mission, BC

John Phillips, retired dairy farmer, Powell River, BC

Elka Weinstei, Toronto, ON

Lynne Rochon, Prince Edward County, ON

Maureen Simmonds, Powell River, BC

Rob Hughes, Routes to Roots Edibles, Powell River, BC

Kim Beno, Powell River, BC

Jay Scott, Toronto, ON

Anthony Garoufalis-Auger, Rapid Decarbonization Group, Montreal PQ

Daniel Horen Greenford, PhD candidate, Ecological Economics, Concordia University, PQ

Pamela Millar, Victoria, BC

XR Thornhill, ON

Jan Burnikell, lifelong organic gardener, food sustainability advocate, Powell River, BC

Jean Mackenzie, Farmer, coastal BC

Dawn Pearson, Toronto, ON

Pat Cappelli, Toronto, ON

Dr. Felipe Montoya-Greenheck, Faculty of Environmental Studies, York University

Ron Berezan, The Urban Farmer consultant in organic agriculture, permaculture and food security, Powell River, BC

Myrna Wood, Picton, ON

Alan Weninger, Department of Plant Sciences, University of Saskatchewan, SK

Nansi McKay, coastal BC

Susanne Gray, Powell River, BC

Inner Edmonton Phenological Engagement, AB

Canadian Interfaith Fast for the Climate

Brewster Kneen, author (From Land to Mouth, Farmageddon, Invisible Giant); co-founder, Toronto Food Policy Council, ON

Neil LaBar, Agriculture Field Technician, University of Saskatchewan

Joan Green, Fredericton, NB

Garry Guild, Fredericton, NB

Wendy Buelow, filmmaker and member of Dunnottar Bird Watch, Winnipeg, MB

John Murtaugh, earthtotables.org, Toronto, ON

Joel Coburn, Local small-scale pasture meats farmer, Head of Millstream, NB

Stephanie Coburn, Head of Millstream, NB

Wendy Dionne, member of Council of Canadians, Fredericton, NB

Andrea Francis, member of Council of Canadians, Fredericton, NB

Sheryl McCumsey, founder of Pesticide-Free Canada, Powell River, BC

Rick Arnold, Roseneath, ON

Maria Coady, Margaree Centre, NS

Brian Peters, Margaree Centre, NS

Cliff Esler, Grand Etang, NS

Dr. Jaymie Heilman, University of Alberta

Dr. Natalie Doonan, Université de Montréal

Dr. Dorothy Woodman, University of Alberta

Kevin Cantalon, Keepers of Kinnaird Ravine, Edmonton, AB

Adam Van Es, Vancouver, BC

Elivira Kotuk, Edmonton, AB

Hanae Kiyooka, Edmonton, AB

Marie Carson, Edmonton, AB

Susan Donner, Edmonton, AB

Bruce Gainer, retired farmer, Powell River, BC

Dr. Sarah Wylie Krotz, University of Alberta

Dr. Andrea Wilhelm, Edmonton, AB

Markus Wilhelm, Edmonton, AB

Claudia Victoria Gonzalez Larenas, commercial beekeeper, Swan River, MB

Kevin D’Arcy, Saskatoon, SK

Joachim Hengge, civil and environmental engineer, Edmonton, AB

Ruth Pickering, Hamilton, ON

Dr. Elizabeth Fitting, Sociology & Social Anthropology, Dalhousie University

Dr. Kristof Van Assche, Department of Planning, University of Alberta

Tara Kelsberg, Calgary, AB

Justin Bertok, Edmonton, AB

Michael Kalmanovitch, owner and founder of Earth's General Store, Edmonton, AB

Judy Corser, Masters in Food Culture, Vancouver BC

Robert Hollis, Program Advisor, Consumer Health Organization of Canada, Toronto, ON

Meghan Vesey, farmer, Akesi Farms, Sundre, AB

Ed Tymchatyn, professor emeritus in Mathematics, University of Saskatchewan

D’Arcy Hande, alumnus, University of Saskatchewan

Dr. Charlotte Young, envision SYNERGY, Toronto, ON

Dr. Graham Riches, author (Food Bank Nations: Poverty Corporate Charity and the Right to Food), emeritus professor and former director of the School of Social Work, University of British Columbia

Dr. Charlotte Spring, University of Calgary, AB

Brad Davis, Victoria, BC,

Jacqueline Sloan, Victoria, BC

Josephine Grey, Founding Director: OASIS food hub project, Toronto, ON

Wafaa El-Osta, Founder of Local2Global Solutions Inc. Toronto, ON

Sherri Ingrey, B.A, LL.B, Dip. Ed., Edmonton, AB

makes my day to read such clear statement of the way forward into really living within the world for generations forward
I can feel hope when I know this way is possible

Did I miss it in the article, or is there a way to add one's name to this letter? I realize it's already been sent, but wish to support it.

I agree! I have thought for most of my life that there will come a time when unless you grow something to eat, you won't HAVE anything to eat. The old farmers here in Cape Breton hardly knew anything was wrong in the Great Depression. Too bad their heirs didn't keep on in those ways! Lots of people have got the idea of planting a garden this year. Too bad I am not as able-bodied as my grandfather was at this age1 Terron K. Dodd