Canadian Food Law Emerging Scholars Workshop Recap - Schulich School of Law, Dalhousie University, May 22-23, 2019


On May 22-23, 13 food law scholars and policy experts gathered at the Schulich Law School at Dalhousie University in Halifax, NS for an intensive food law paper workshop. The workshop provided an opportunity for emerging scholars to present their work, engage others in a small group setting, and gain feedback from senior scholars in field. In total, six papers were circulated and presented for discussion in English and French. Each presenter was paired with a senior scholar who served a primary commentator on their paper.  The topics ranged from domestic and international discussions of food security and food sovereignty, to critical perspectives on emerging food technologies, to individual rights to particular foods and legal obligations to respect personal dietary preferences.

The workshop began with a presentation by Angela Lee (doctoral candidate at the University of Ottawa) that advanced a vision for “technology justice” in Canada, using the agri-food sector as a specific locus of study. Drawing on the work of existing, analogous justice movements (e.g. environmental justice and food justice), she stressed the importance of taking distributive concerns into account in the design, development, deployment, use, and regulation of technologies. Angela’s paper sparked much discussion among participants about how technology justice might be used to understand and interrogate different areas of law—such as intellectual property—that shape food systems.

Sarah Berger Richardson (visiting Schulich Fellow at Dalhousie University) then presented a working paper on the perceived conflict between international human rights law and international investment law in the context of large-scale land acquisitions. She proposed different ways that these legal regimes can be reconciled, making the argument that investors’ legitimate expectations should include the expectation that states will act to conform with their international human rights commitments, including the right to food. Drawing on the helpful feedback received to clarify the scope of the project, Sarah and the paper’s co-author, Rachel Zuroff, has since added a hypothetical scenario to the paper and developed their analysis around this case study.   


In the afternoon, both presentations focused on the topic of food sovereignty and its legal and normative function. First, Nadia Lambek (doctoral candidate at the University of Toronto) presented a chapter from her doctoral research which argues that over the past two decades, transnational agrarian movements, like La Vía Campesina, have asserted themselves as legal actors whose efforts should not only be considered as a part of international law, but as shaping international law's normative elaboration. Indeed, these actors engage as legal critics (offering a critique of international law and transnational legal reform projects and their impacts on rural areas), legal innovators (offering a new rural human rights project) and law-makers (engaging in efforts to formalize their human rights project through institutionalization in global governance arenas). In this sense, Nadia makes the argument that they have a normative function that should be recognized.

Continuing on the theme of food sovereignty, Jessica Dufresne (doctoral candidate at the University of Ottawa), considered how municipalities can take an active role in implementing policies that support the realization of the right to food. While the federal and provincial governments do not explicitly refer to the right to food in any of its human rights legislation, Jessica argued that municipalities can step in to fill the current legislative void. This enlarged role for municipalities finds support in principles of subsidiarity and scholarship on “human rights in the city”. Jessica’s work engages core questions about Canadian federalism and workshop participants grappled with how strict divisions of power between federal and provincial (and municipal) levels of government might limit the scope of what municipalities can and cannot do on their own. But it also highlights the opportunities for multilevel governance in food law and policy.


For the second day of the workshop, Professor Patricia Galvao-Ferreira (University of Windsor) opened the morning session with an introduction to the emerging industry of entomophagy in Canada. As insect protein makes its way onto the supermarket shelves, Patricia set out her initial research questions for a study into the regulation of edible insects in Canada. This is an emerging topic in food law and policy and Patricia’s work in this area raises several novel questions, including the fundamental but difficult to answer question of how to define insect protein. Workshop participants were keenly interested in these questions and asked whether or not insects should be understood as an animal or a novel category for the purposes of regulation, and where insect protein should be situated in relation to animal- and plant-based protein.

To conclude the workshop, Sabrina Tremblay-Huet (doctoral candidate, Université de Sherbrooke) presented a paper on whether patients, and/or staff and visitors in Quebec hospitals have a right to vegan options within these institutions. In her presentation, Sabrina explored several possibilities, including whether this right is recognized by the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms and protected under the province’s Act respecting health services and social services. Discussion at the workshop was helpful in showing that this question extends beyond hospitals and drives toward the issue of whether public institutions as a whole in Quebec have an obligation to provide vegan food options.

One of the objectives of the workshop was to bring experts in food law and policy into conversation with one another and to build relationships among scholars working on food. The senior scholars who were matched to these presentations were Professor Bita Amani (Faculty of Law, Queens University), Professors Sara Seck and Lucie Guilbault (Schulich School of Law, Dalhousie University), Professor Lucie Lamarche (Faculty of Law, UQAM), Professor Elizabeth Fitting (Department of Sociology and Social Anthropology, Dalhousie University) and Dr. Don Buckingham (CEO, Canadian Agri-food Policy Institute). Our senior scholars were generous in their feedback, engaging critically with the material (both the papers and the oral presentations) and providing thoughtful suggestions for their improvement.

The workshop was organized by Professor Jamie Baxter and visiting Schulich Fellow, Sarah Berger Richardson, with the generous support of Dean Camille Cameron and the Schulich School of Law. Thank you to all of this year’s participants for your contributions to the workshop. Until next time!