Ontario could feed more hungry people and divert much of the local food that's thrown out each year by giving a tax break to farmers who donate to food banks, the Progressive Conservatives said Wednesday.
"I believe that this amendment provides a concrete solution which will not only assist local food banks, but also local farmers and struggling Ontarians," said Conservative Bob Bailey, who represents Sarnia-Lambton.
"It will fight two problems in our province: hunger and waste."
Many farmers have to destroy produce they can't sell, said Mr. Bailey, who has pushed for the tax change for three years.
According to industry figures, the equivalent of about 11 million kilograms of food a year is going to landfills or plowed back into fields, he said. Food banks believe they could get about 2.25 million kilograms of that.
Mr. Bailey said he spoke to a tomato farmer who had to pay to get rid of the produce he couldn't sell because plowing tomatoes into his fields would make the soil too acidic.
Giving farmers a tax credit of 25 per cent of the wholesale price would cost the province an estimated $750,000 in the first year, Mr. Bailey said.
"It's feeding children that are hungry and people that are there for 'the grace of God, go I'" he said. "People don't have a lot of arguments with that."
The tax credit is a good idea in principle, but it's more complicated than what the Tories have proposed, said NDP agriculture critic John Vanthof.
Food banks need a steady source of food, not a large dump of what's called "excess production" all at once, said Mr. Vanthof, who was a dairy farmer for 32 years and donated milk to food banks.
"You can't just show up with a trailerload of milk at the end of the year and say, 'Here food bank, here's 30,000 litres of milk' which they have no use for," he said in an interview from New Liskeard.
"Because they can't store 30,000 litres of milk or process 30,000 litres of milk."
Under the Dairy Farmers of Ontario program, farmers committed to providing a certain amount of milk every month to the food bank and processors had to commit to processing the milk throughout the year, Mr. Vanthof said.
Those who process other food — such as canning fruits and vegetables to make them last longer — should also get a tax credit, he said.
Farmers already give away some of the crops to food banks, but the tax credit would provide "a little extra incentive" and some compensation, said Amanda King of the Ontario Association of Food Banks.
There are more than 412,000 people in Ontario who are using food banks every month, which includes 160,000 children, she said.
"[We] truly believe it will help providing more fresh food to our food bank clients across the province," Ms. King said.
Hunger shouldn't be an issue in Ontario, said Jamie Reaume of the Holland Marsh Growers' Association.
"This is an opportunity for farmers — not just in my area in the Holland Marsh, but farmers right across the province — to be able to utilize what they do to be able to give back to the communities that they grow in," he said.
Mr. Bailey and Tory agriculture critic Ernie Hardeman want to amend the proposed Local Food Act, which is aimed at encouraging growth of markets for local food.
They're urging Premier Kathleen Wynne — who also serves as agriculture minister — to support the amendment.
A source says Ms. Wynne is open to the idea, but needs to see details of the Tories' proposal.
Ms. Wynne's spokeswoman Gabrielle Gallant said the Tories stalled the bill implementing the food act for months in the legislature, which the Tories dispute, saying it passed second reading May 15 after being introduced in late March.
"We are encouraged the PCs are ready to work with us to increase access, availability, and sales of the good things that grow in Ontario," she wrote in an email.
"We welcome input from stakeholders and the opposition parties, and look forward to reviewing the proposal in committee and working collaboratively to make this important legislation as strong as possible."