The report also says poverty, often the cause of food insecurity, should be a priority
The Conference Board of Canada, in its latest discussion paper on a national food strategy, says Canadian agriculture policy and selective subsidies could be weapons in the war against hunger.
It argued that any national food strategy must “ensure that agricultural policies have a household food security lens. Agricultural policy can work toward alleviating household food insecurity by ensuring that food insecurity issues are reviewed as part of the policy development process.”
Unlike the United States that in-cludes school lunches, food stamps and nutrition as part of its Farm Bill, Canadian farm policy typically has steered clear of nutrition or hunger issues, leaving those to policies of other departments.
The Conference Board, planning a national food strategy proposal unveiling next March, is suggesting that the Canadian policy separation end.
In a research paper published last week, the Conference Board said that almost two million Canadians, many of them children and school-age youth, come from food insecure families that are unable to provide adequate or healthy diets.
The result is students who perform poorly in school and later have challenges as adults in the economy.
The research study written by Alison Howard and Jessica Edge for the Conference Board, whose research is supported by business and Agriculture Canada, recommended that Canadian federal and provincial governments create a national school nutrition program.
Canada is the only G8 country without a national school nutrition program, said Howard.
“Children that lack proper diets are less able to concentrate and perform well at school, which makes it more difficult to learn the skills they need as adults,” she said in a statement with the release of the report.
“Ensuring that all children and youth have access to sufficient, safe and nutritious foods for their everyday activities are critical for a vulnerable population.”
It also recommends a more aggressive government effort to support local food programs, collection and distribution of excess food, food banks and community food programs, including tax breaks for companies that support local food initiatives.
The report’s most surprising recommendation is that the government should consider new subsidies for fruit and vegetable farmers. The Conference Board has been a critic of agricultural subsidies and protectionism in the past.
The latest report says that as part of a national food policy, the government should consider “policies that increase the affordability of fresh produce for low-income populations (that) would assist those at-risk groups in obtaining more fruit and vegetables.
“Policy options to explore include providing commodity subsidies for fruit and vegetables, subsidized crop insurance for fruit and vegetable farmers, and transportation subsidies for farmers to transport produce from farm to market.”
The report said a national food strategy should include efforts to increase food literacy among the poor to ensure they understand the best food choices, as well as a more robust attack on poverty, the root cause of most food insecurity.
The report defines food security as having the ability and resources to buy adequate supplies of healthy food. It says universal food security should be a Canadian goal and yet poverty, food costs or isolation often mean it is not the situation for almost eight percent of Canadian households.
“Affected individuals often cannot access healthy food options such as milk, chicken, fish and fresh fruit and vegetables,” said the report.
“As a result, their diets tend to rely more heavily on calorie-dense processed foods which are cheaper to buy and fill their stomachs.”