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Buy Local, Not
When it comes to food, city hall is reversing its policy of making buying local a priority.

(Marina Dempster)

Toronto’s local food procurement strategy isn’t much, but it certainly isn’t a priority for the Ford administration.

City staff were on hand at the Government Management Committee to take questions on a policy that would have city-run long-term care homes, hostel centres and daycares try to buy local — when the cost is the same or cheaper than food from outside Ontario.

The strategy is watered-down compared to earlier proposals to have Toronto agencies buy the majority of their food supply from local producers — whether in Leamington, Holland Marsh or products processed in GTA factories. (Food processing is now one of the GTA’s biggest industries; see the Standard‘s report here.)

Councillor Doug Ford was not a fan of the proposal. He said those looking for waste at City Hall can look at the grant money spent on outside consultants to assess Toronto’s food economy.

“We’re all supporters of our farmers, local businesses — but it’s not realistic,” Ford said. “But we had to go out to some consultant and spend $85,000 for them to tell us that.”

A $225,000 grant was awarded to the city with the stated aim of stimulating local food buying. City staff recommends the remaining funds be used to develop recipes that take advantage of more local food sources.

Another issue was asking the province to change the definition of local food to include more food processed in Toronto.

The current policy disqualifies products that list foreign-ingredients first, for example, pineapple yogurt. The city’s recommended definition would say a pineapple yogurt, mostly made in Ontario with Ontario, would qualify as local.

Councillor Pam McConnell was among those who argued it was about the local economy.

“Toronto’s second industry is the production of food,” McConnell said. “If you start looking at the surrounding areas the Niagara and the Leamingtons and so on — this is big business.”

Ford said he supports local farmers as long as they’re competitive in the market.

“They have to be competitive, they have to have a quality product and they have to have on time delivery — just like every other industry in the world does,” Ford said. “As for giving subsidies to a lot of these companies, I think it’s a bunch of nonsense and a bunch of hogwash.”

The vote on the local food procurement strategy resulted in a tie, so did the vote on changing the definition of local. The report will go to Council without a recommendation to defeat or accept it. The Toronto Environmental Alliance has started a petition in support of council adopting a local food procurement strategy.

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