Time for farm groups, leaders to discuss food policies, take action on hunger

Is it indifference, smugness or a genuine belief that hunger and food insecurity are simply not Canadian problems but something Canadians watch on television from far-off developing countries?


Maybe it’s a combination of all of the above.


Whatever the reason, a scathing report to the United Nations this week critical of Canadian food policy and widespread food insecurity in the midst of a food-producing powerhouse provoked almost no reaction in Canada. 


There was little political reaction and precious little farm sector reaction.


Olivier De Schutter, United Nations special rapporteur on the right to food, found Canadian food and poverty policy seriously lacking.


Hunger is usually the result of poverty, he wrote, and as many as three million Canadians face poverty and hundreds of thousands use food banks.


De Schutter said social assistance programs and minimum wage laws fall well short of helping those who must often choose between housing and adequate food.


He supported local food strategies and was critical of Canada’s agriculture policy that emphasizes exports and big “efficient” operations.


He called for a national strategy and legislation aimed at guaranteeing the right to food.


Of course, that is a vague and loaded term: the right to food under what conditions? Does it mean society owes you food even if you make bad spending choices with the money you have or the chances offered?


What obligations do individuals have? 


Would an emphasis on local food really make it more affordable to the poor? Farmers’ market prices can be higher than corporate food company prices.


Would a de-emphasis on exports from a food surplus country do anything more than impoverish or drive out of business many farmers who depend on exports? What would be the gain?


Canadian agriculture as it now exists could not be sustained if it depended largely on a domestic market of 33 million when many sectors now export more than half of what they produce.


Still, the deafening silence in the wake of De Schutter’s report is surprising.


Poverty, hunger and food insecurity are realities in Canada, and many farm groups and agricultural organizations recognize it through their support of food banks.


But is charity really an answer? Can we not strive for a better and more equitable solution as a blessed and affluent nation capable of feeding our citizens and a good portion of the world if we wanted?


This critical report would be an opportunity for farm groups and leaders to move away from self-interest to leading a discussion on why Canada has hunger in the midst of plenty and whether farm policies and pricing are part of the problem?


The federal Conservatives are disinterested in the debate.


Last year when De Schutter visited Canada, agriculture minister Gerry Ritz dismissed him as a lefty with a political agenda who should spend his time looking at countries where there are real food problems.


Actually, Canada for all its riches, is one of those countries.


That is not a political agenda comment, but simply a reality.

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