Editor’s Letter: July 2012
By Laura Aiken
The idea of a “right to food” put Canada under fire recently when
Olivier De Schutter, a UN Special Rapporteur, blasted our government for
lacking a national food policy.
The idea of a “right to food” put Canada under fire recently when Olivier De Schutter, a UN Special Rapporteur, blasted our government for lacking a national food policy. I believe in a right to food, but will entrenching that right in our Charter of Rights and Freedoms end hunger? No. The majority of hunger is rooted in poverty and if solving poverty were as simple as saying people had a right to be free from it in a constitution, this would have happened a long time ago. Currently, there is no one to take to court and sue because you are poor and went without food, and if the government could be sued for allowing poverty, the legal action would certainly create a lot of payouts that voters would be unlikely to support if doing so hurt their own pocketbooks. In the end, you cannot really control what people spend their money on so giving people more money alone doesn’t ensure they are fed.
Would a national food policy feed the 800,000 households identified in Schutter’s report as food insecure? That is a complicated answer, which is probably why nothing has been done yet despite lots of talk about a national food policy in the last federal election.
The Conservatives focused on key export markets and agriculture, mentioning the creation of a national farm and food strategy to guide federal policy. The Liberals focused on safe, sustainable local food and environmentally sound farming. All five parties made some mention of a national food policy, but I could not find the mention of food insecurity or addressing a root cause of poverty in any of the ideas. Last year, however, a citizen movement tackled these issues head on.
In April 2011, a paper called Resetting the Table: A People’s Food Policy for Canada was published, describing itself as 3,500 people over 250 kitchen table talks engaged in a grassroots citizens project. “Canada urgently needs a national food policy,” concluded the report. “Close to two and a half million Canadians are food insecure. Farmers and fishers are going out of business, our natural environment is being pushed to the limit, a quarter of Canadians are considered obese, and we are the only G8 country without a nationally-funded school meal program. The status quo is no longer an option.” Ten detailed policy papers were included in the document, which called for a federal poverty elimination program and a nationally funded program for children.
Food is big business, and we in the food industry know that intimately. If a national policy means government funding to help redistribute food, this is good for the hungry mouth and the hand that feeds it.
We know we produce enough food for all to eat, but this has not led to equal distribution. Since equal distribution isn’t really at the heart of a free capitalist market, and food is a business, it is probably not something our government can solve (although it may assist as a national food policy may). The government can stimulate job opportunities and try to create a Canada where people have a chance to support themselves. It can also help the businesses that provide the food.
Food insecurity has been part of the human condition for half a million years, our entire known existence. It is hard to believe simply adopting a national food policy will fix an affliction we haven’t been able to shake thus far. However, it is a step in the right direction, so long as everyone is realistic about what limited impact it may have. Doing something is still better than doing nothing at all.