Growing and eating locally 

By Karen Herland

A major report on the future of Quebec’s agriculture was made public in mid-February.

“It represents an impressive research effort,” said Shane Mulligan, a lecturer in the Department of Political Science.

Shane Mulligan is researching the relationships between energy, agriculture and food security. Magnifying glass

Shane Mulligan is researching the relationships between energy, agriculture and food security.

The report, commissioned by Jean Charest and written under the leadership of Jean Pronovost, comes after 18 months and over 700 presentations from farmers, consumers and other stakeholders. The final report offers 49 recommendations for the future of Quebec’s agricultural sector.

The report generally calls for a shift away from traditional commodities towards a more diverse production base, with incentives for organic methods and environmental stewardship. It also recommends shifting subsidies toward small or beginning enterprises, and encourages labeling and distribution of local produce.

“These changes reflect a growing consumer interest in knowing your food, where it comes from and how it is produced,” Mulligan said.

Mulligan has begun a research project looking at the relationships between energy, agriculture, and food security. “Food security is partly about there being enough food, but it also matters that you trust the food, and that you can afford it.”

Among the factors affecting food prices is the rising price of oil. “Fossil fuels literally drive agricultural production,” Mulligan said. Oil is important in terms of farm production, food transport and food processing. Fluctuations in fuel prices have an impact on production costs, and ultimately on consumer prices, so reducing the distance food travels can help lessen the impact of oil price hikes.

Mulligan says that a local agricultural infrastructure that includes a broader range of locally produced foods makes sense in terms of food security. “Ultimately, there’s a question of whether we could feed ourselves independently if we needed to. And that depends on maintaining local food production capacity.”

The report also touches on the idea of food sovereignty. “This is a question of autonomy and choice, of making our own decisions about agriculture. There’s a lot of concern about negative impacts from globalization in the food industry.”

Mulligan said the report also suggests the need for “expedited local supply chains that could get food to markets with less bureaucracy.”

A recent Gazette article quoted an Abitibi farmer’s testimony to the commission last May. His produce had to be shipped to a Montreal warehouse before being distributed to the supermarkets in his own neighbourhood.

Mulligan says that only about 10 per cent of the food on local supermarket shelves is made in Quebec. The report’s recommendations would increase this percentage, and bring fresher food to the table while lowering fuel consumption costs.

Of course, there is no guarantee that these recommendations will be implemented, and no clear timeline for their integration. It is likely up to consumer insistence to push the recommendations from politicians’ shelves to grocers’ shelves.


Concordia University