UN special rapporteur for food Olivier De Schutter said he was inCanada to launch a conversation over a national food strategy, andhe certainly started a debate. Discussion centred on whether Canadians have trouble affording tofeed themselves, with the government arguing De Schutter waswasting his time and advocates for the poor urging politicians toarrange for wide-ranging meetings to create a national foodstrategy. De Schutter warned Wednesday that inequality is getting worse, withmany Canadians having problems getting the healthy food theyrequire. The 11-day visit to Canada involved looking at whether poor peoplein Canada have adequate diets and at social policies to supportpeople with low incomes, he said. De Schutter said his role is tohelp countries identify blind spots in public policies that wouldbe easier to ignore and that he didn't see why he should mincehis words. |
"We have a large number of Canadians who are unacceptably too poorto feed themselves decently," he said. "We have in this country more than 800,000 households who areconsidered food insecure.... This situation is of great concern tome." Canada has a standard of living that is envied throughout theworld, he said. But inequality is increasing and the top 10 percent of the country is 10 times more affluent than the bottom 10per cent. Taxes and benefits reduce inequality much less than inmost OECD countries.
Canada fails to adapt its social assistance benefits and minimumwage to the rising costs of basic necessities, including food andhousing, he added. Food banks are not a solution but a symptom offailing social safety nets. 'Discredit to the United Nations' The Conservative government struck early, with Immigration MinisterJason Kenney suggesting De Schutter is wasting his organization'smoney by visiting a developed country. "Canada sends billion of dollars of food aid to developingcountries around the world where people are starving," Kenney said. "It would be our hope that the contributions we make to the UnitedNations are used to help starving people in developing countries,not to give lectures to wealthy and developed countries likeCanada.
And I think this is a discredit to the United Nations." De Schutter says most of his missions are in developing countries,but he estimates Canada has two to three million people who can'tafford the diets they need to lead healthy lives. He says onemillion First Nations people and 55,000 Inuit are "the desperatesituation" in which they find themselves. "The right to food is about politics. It s not abouttechnicalities. It s a matter of principle and it s a matter ofpolitical will.
I think these comments are symptomatic of the veryproblem that it is my duty to address," he said. Consumers educate themselves about food NDP MPs urged support for farmers and policies that ensure theworking poor can feed themselves in the wake of De Schutter'sreport. "This government says if you have a job, you won t be poor.That s not true," New Democrat MP Malcolm Allen said Wednesday. At the same time, consumers are trying to re-educate themselvesabout where their food comes from, because much of it isn't grownlocally, he said.
Many farmers have to work off-farm to earn aliving or export all their product to other countries to survive. Hunger and consumer groups also called for a national strategy inCanada to deal with the quality, availability and price of food. Representatives from Food Secure Canada, the National FarmersUnion, Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami and the Centre for Science in thePublic Interest, called for a plan to connect farms withcommunities and to deal with a problem that sees familiesstruggling to feed themselves. Paul Slomp, youth spokesman for the National Farmers Union, saidthey agree that Canada s food system is in dire need of attention.In the last 20 years, he said, the number of farmers under the ageof 35 has decreased from 77,000 to a little more than 24,000. "Parents who are farming are telling their kids it s not worth thestress and it s not worth the debt," he said.
"Canada needs to make sure that farmers have a viable income ingrowing food for Canadians." The groups, representing a variety of interests and each withdifferent demands, all called for a national food strategy. "On a sort of common sense basis, we live in Canada. Kids shouldnot be going to school hungry," said Diane Bronson, executivedirector of Food Secure Canada.
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