Federal ministers defend Nutrition North Canada


We understand the challenges northerners face when it comes to purchasing nutritious food at affordable prices.

More than 80 engagement sessions with Aboriginal groups and key stakeholders were undertaken across Canada’s North, and included the governments of Ontario, Quebec, and Manitoba.

We have listened to northerners, including First Nations and Inuit, and that is why after careful review, Nutrition North Canada will replace the old Food Mail Program.

Nutrition North Canada will be a new retail subsidy program aimed at making healthy food more accessible and affordable to Canadians living in the most isolated northern communities. The new program is slated for full implementation in April 2011.

The way northerners shop for groceries will not change. The difference under Nutrition North is that the Government of Canada will work directly with retailers and wholesalers to support access to more affordable, healthy foods.

To improve retail competition and consumer choice, the new program includes a provision that will allow individuals to access the subsidy by ordering food directly from eligible southern suppliers.

As a first step towards implementing Nutrition North Canada, on October 3, 2010, the current Food Mail subsidy was removed from certain foods that are low in nutritional value, or high in fat, sugar, or sodium content. The revised eligibility list is based on Canada’s Food Guide and was developed in partnership with Health Canada and other key stakeholders.

Non-perishable foods and non-food items were also removed from the eligibility list. This was done to direct the shipment of these goods to cheaper, more cost effective transport modes such as the sealift and winter roads. Unlike perishable foods, these items do not require expensive air transport.

Prior to announcing the Nutrition North Canada program, retailers were consulted on proposed changes to ensure that they would have time to adjust. With four months notice to plan for larger sealift orders, the majority of northern retailers were able to do so; therefore retail prices were not significantly affected.

A few retailers however, would have preferred additional time to plan for larger sealift orders. Subsequently, these retailers have felt the need to increase their prices in the short term while they make the necessary adjustments to prepare for the new program.

While adapting to change is not always easy, we are confident that this change is for the better. As northerners made clear during public engagement sessions, there is a compelling need for us to better target the government’s subsidy and limited resources for the healthiest of foods.

To this end, in spring 2011, when Nutrition North is operating, the program will provide a higher rate of subsidy to the most nutritious, perishable foods such as fresh vegetables, fruit and milk.

As well, a diet including traditional or country foods has been associated with lower levels of heart disease and diabetes. These foods include less fat and sugar than many store-bought foods, and contribute important nutrients for good health.

As of April 1, 2011, country meats produced in certified northern food processing plants will be subsidized under Nutrition North Canada.

Meanwhile, as part of the Nutrition North Canada Program, Health Canada will enhance its support for healthy communities by offering culturally-appropriate retail and community-based nutrition education initiatives. These measures will focus on the selection and preparation of nutritious foods.

Furthermore, to give northerners more of a voice in the program, we have established an advisory board that will be comprised of northerners. This advisory body will improve accountability and ensure that the program focuses on the priorities of northerners.

We appreciate that replacing a long-standing program, even one that is flawed and in need of an overhaul, still requires a period of adjustment.

That is why we will continue to work with all stakeholders as we move toward the April 2011 launch of Nutrition North Canada. We are confident that it is the right way forward to build healthy and prosperous communities in Canada’s North.

Hon. John Duncan
Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development
and Federal Interlocutor for Métis and Non-Status Indians

Hon. Leona Aglukkaq
Minister of Health

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