Flexibility is key to getting local food in Ontario health care facilities

Toronto, Ontario. February 22, 2013 – Flexibility, not legislation, is the best way to get local food into Ontario hospitals, according to a policy paper developed by researchers at the University of Guelph along with their research partners, My Sustainable Canada and the Canadian Coalition for Green Health Care. Based on a three-year study funded by a grant from the University of Guelph/OMAFRA Partnership Fund, this paper offers practical recommendations related to the Promoting Local Food Act (Bill 130), which was proposed by the Ontario government in October 2012. These recommendations are aimed at three key stakeholder groups: relevant Ontario ministries, food producers and distributors, and healthcare administrators.

The Promoting Local Food Act aims to create stronger and more resilient local food economies in Ontario, and grants the Minister the power to set local food procurement targets and goals for institutions, including hospitals and long-term care homes. While there are many actions that can help create stronger and more resilient local food economies in Ontario, the report “Local Food Provision in Ontario’s Hospitals and long-Term Care Facilities: Recommendations for Stakeholders” concludes that it is not practical at this time to set Ontario-wide procurement targets for the healthcare sector. Instead, government should address trade agreement conflicts and ease organisational access to local foods, among other steps.

“The most appropriate approach right now to increase the amount of local food in healthcare is to continue giving facilities flexibility in their approach to local food,” says the project’s lead researcher, Dr. Paulette Padanyi of the University of Guelph.

“We believe that continued flexibility is appropriate because individual facilities across Ontario have different strategic priorities, different budgetary circumstances and constraints, different human resource capabilities, and different local food supply situations.”

Additionally, mandated procurement targets could create problems for healthcare facilities, says Brendan Wylie-Toal, Research Manager for My Sustainable Canada.

“It’s hard to align local food with the key strategic priorities in healthcare,” he says. “Furthermore, local food procurement targets for public institutions could place healthcare facilities in potential conflict with the Ministry of Finance’s Broader Public Sector Procurement Directive.”

“It is also important to note that the antecedents required for such a mandate, such as the ability to consistently source, purchase, and track local foods, are not yet in place on a broad scale.”

Rather than mandating local food procurement targets for the health care sector, the report recommends a series of actions (listed below) that should be undertaken by the Ontario government, food producers and suppliers and healthcare personnel to support and increase the use of local food in Ontario’s healthcare sector.

It is recommended that the Ministry of Health and Long Term Care (MOHLTC), Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA) and Ministry of Finance (MOF):

  • Give health care facilities flexibility in their approach to local food. It is not recommended that local food procurement targets be mandated at this time.
  • Develop new “easing of access” programs.
  • Fund investigations into local food claims to provide scientific support for them.
  • Initiate dialogues between OMAFRA, MOHLTC and MOF to discuss trade agreement conflicts and the role of food and agriculture in creating healthy communities.
  • Define and differentiate the role(s) food plays in various types of health care facilities.
  • Consider having food services funded by and report to OMAFRA rather than MOHLTC.

It is recommended that farmers and small-, medium-, and large-scale distributors:

  • Use local food language in public tenders that does not conflict with trade agreements.
  • Take full advantage of “easing of access” programs, such as Ontariofresh.ca.
  • Take full advantage of the Broader Public Sector Investment Fund.

It is recommended that health care facilities’ food service managers and the senior administrators they report to:

  • Prepare a formal, local food policy or statement for their facility.
  • Take full advantage of “easing of access” programs, such as Ontariofresh.ca.
  • Adopt local food language in contracts with their local food suppliers.
  • Endorse initiatives that support local food in health care, such as the Healthy Food in Healthcare pledge.

BACKGROUND: The report, “Local Food Provision in Ontario’s Hospitals and long-Term Care Facilities: Recommendations for Stakeholders,” (http://www.mysustainablecanada.org/publications/research-papers) is the third and final written deliverable from a 2010-2012 local food project conducted with financial support from the University of Guelph/Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs Partnership Fund. It flows from the findings of the project’s two previous reports, and also incorporates other new information and research that relate to various issues impacting local food and/or healthcare.
My Sustainable Canada (MSC) is a national not-for-profit organization with a mandate to help people and organizations make socially conscious shifts in their purchasing decisions for a more sustainable world. Public and private sector institutions are increasingly looking to leverage their buying power to create positive social change. MSC works with these groups to address the barriers and opportunities to purchasing more local and sustainable products. MSC has been distinguished as “Local Food Champions” (2012) by the Broader Public Sector Investment Fund. www.mysustainablecanada.org
The Canadian Coalition for Green Health Care is Canada’s premier integrated green health care resource network; a national voice and catalyst for environmental change. For over ten years, the Coalition has been helping those working in health care facilities, non-governmental and governmental organisations, individuals, students and businesses to share green health care best practices and to become better equipped to deal with the growing demands placed upon them to be environmentally responsible health service workers and individuals. Together with our members, volunteers and supportive health care community, we strive to reduce health care’s ecological impact from compassionate care delivery while providing a nurturing platform upon which to discuss and promote best practices, innovation and environmental responsibility. www.greenhealthcare.ca

Nicholas Cloet

Nicholas Cloet

Project & Research Manager at My Sustainable Canada
Nicholas is a Project and Research Manager with My Sustainable Canada. He contributes to the 3P Mentorship Program with research, resource development, and other technical/creative support.
Nicholas Cloet
Nicholas CloetFlexibility is key to getting local food in Ontario health care facilities

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