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Leveraging Government Agri-Food Policy to Control Health Care Costs

22/09/2010


A significant amount of your tax dollars are going to health care. As the population ages, health care costs will increase. At the same time, paying for health care impacts the government’s ability to invest in agriculture and agri-food programs.

In today’s interrelated, complex, global food chain, there is another option. Farmers and food processors can help prevent disease; with per capita health care expenses hovering at around $3,600, reducing chronic disease is an important economic strategy. Integrating health expenditures with agriculture and agri-food spending would reduce the need for agriculture and food initiatives to compete with health care programs and help create a healthier population.

There is a disconnect between health and Ag policy in Canada. We have a Ministry of Agriculture & Agri-Food promoting farmer and processor interests while the Ministry of Health is focused on protecting consumers from the Canadian food industry. This separated mandate results in government departments too often acting as advocates for their cause rather than as collaborators in a coherent, integrated policy and program approach.

This inefficient approach creates confusion. Farmers and processors get government encouragement to add value and create innovative functional foods by one arm of government, only to be faced with regulatory hurdles put up by another arm, discouraging them from telling Canadians about the health benefits of their products.

More collaboration would allow us to enhance Canadian agri-food competitiveness while helping prevent illness with safe, healthy food. It could also allow Health Canada to fast track health benefit claims approval based on reputable foreign government reviews.

A combined agriculture, health and food approach would provide the holistic focus for government to reduce ballooning health care expenditures and streamline the regulatory process while bringing farmers, processors and consumers into healthier alignment.

Is it time to combine the Ministry of Health with Agriculture and Agri Food? It is certainly time to discuss the idea. We need to shift the agri-food / health paradigm so that agriculture, food processing, food safety and health are liberated from their silos into a coherent, national strategy that leverages food’s impact on preventing diseases.

Hippocrates, the father of modern medicine, had it right over 2,000 years ago: “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.”

To get more information or to contribute to the discussion, contact myself or your local MNP Advisor.

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