Food security

Posted on May 27, 2012 in Social Security Debates

Source: — Authors: – Opinion/Editorials
Published on May 26, 2012

All Canadians should be embarrassed that our food security shortcomings have to be pointed out by a UN right-to-food envoy.

Despite the posturing of the federal government, most of us know that everything Olivier De Schutter said last week is true. Canada is flaunting its human-rights obligations by ignoring hunger within our borders. Hundreds of thousands of poor parents in our country do not have adequate food for their families. There is no national food strategy and the Canadian Council on Welfare has been axed.

Immigration Minister Jason Kenney was in damage repair mode before the envoy even presented his report, calling it ridiculous. “Canada is one of the wealthiest and most democratic countries in the world. We believe that the UN should focus on development – in countries where people are starving. We think it’s simply a waste of resources to come to Canada to give political lectures.”

However, after 11 days here, De Schutter, who is Harvard-trained, said this country needs to drop its “self-righteous” attitude and start dealing with a widespread problem of food insecurity. He also blasted Canada for its “appallingly poor” record of taking recommendations from UN human-rights bodies seriously. This visit was his first to a developed country.

“It’s even more shocking to me to see that there are 900,000 households in Canada that are food insecure and up to 2.5 million people precisely because this is a wealthy country. It’s even less excusable,” said De Schutter.

After meeting with De Schutter, Leona Aglukkaq, Nunavut’s MP and federal health minister, tried to minimize his comments on May 16. She said she was insulted that he chose to study Canada.

De Schutter’s final report will be presented to the UN Human Rights Council in 2013 and will form part of Canada’s official international human rights record.

The UN envoy is not alone in airing concern. Dr. Ronald Labonté, professor and Canada Research Chair, Globalization and Health Equity, at the University of Ottawa, has noted, “Things are getting worse. We have lived through three decades where the predatory greed of unregulated markets has allowed (and still allows) some to accumulate ever larger hordes of wealth and power while denying others a fair share of the resources they need to be healthy.”

Recently, HungerCount released some precedent-setting numbers indicating there are lots of hungry people in this land, despite the posturing of the federal cabinet. The latest figures from the organization indicate that in Nova Scotia, 22,505 people are being assisted by food banks and 31.5 per cent of them are children.

More than two million Canadians regularly don’t have enough to eat, people on government income support and those earning minimum wage are often forced to choose between food and rent, and rates of food insecurity in some northern communities reach an astounding 79 per cent.

Food Banks Canada’s national survey highlights the fact that food bank use has soared by 28 per cent in the past three years, with more than 850,000 Canadians making use of a food bank in a typical month.

Formerly we marked Hunger Awareness Day, Food Banks Canada has suggested Canadians take an entire seven-day period to examine hunger issues. Hunger Awareness Week is now an initiative that challenges Canadians to learn more about the issue of hunger in our country and to take action to make a difference for those in need.

Dianne Swinemar, executive director of Feed Nova Scotia, has pointed out that in this region, after two years of significant increases, the latest statistics show a modest decrease in food bank usage. Yet hunger and poverty are still so tightly woven into our social fabric, she said, that “we no longer bat an eye when a new food bank or shelter pops up in our neighbourhood. We accept lackluster solutions from government.”

Regrettably, the Canadian food system has many significant problems with farmers and fishers going out of business. The food bank survey also pointed out that a quarter of Canadians are considered obese, and the industrial food production system is one of the leading contributors to greenhouse gas emissions.

Not only is our food system is broken, but the United Nations has taken notice. This week, the U.N. is sending Olivier de Schutter, a special rapporteur on the right to food, to this country to determine into whether the right to food is being respected. The federal government has legally binding obligations under the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which we signed in 1976.

The World Health Organization has declared poverty to be the single largest determinant of health. Human beings who lack shelter, a safe and secure food supply, access to education, employment and sufficient income for basic needs experience poor health outcomes.

Studies have pointed out that poverty costs Nova Scotia approximately $1.5 billion annually when all factors are added up. According to Feed Nova Scotia, low-income Nova Scotians use 43 per cent more health care services than those in higher income brackets.

Diana Bronson, executive director of Food Secure Canada, believes that Canada urgently needs an integrated national food policy. She has said we need to make decisions that take into account multiple factors, such as health, poverty, domestic and international markets, regional development needs, the environment and much more.

Katharine Schmidt, executive director of Food Banks Canada, has said, “It’s important for Canadians to understand that hunger is easily hidden and often overlooked, but inevitably lives in all of our communities.”

Feeding Canadian citizens is a matter of fundamental human rights. This month, more than 900 food banks and 2,900 affiliated agencies are distributing groceries and providing meals to Canadians in need. How to wake up the federal government would seem to be the greatest question we face.

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