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It’s time that food security be on the table

By Art Eggleton      

The federal and provincial governments need to work together to create better solutions to food insecurity, Senators hear.

A farmers' market in Ottawa. Food insecurity affects more than 4 million Canadians and involves issues of poverty, health care, agriculture, climate change, education, and more. The Hill Times photograph by Jake Wright
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Food insecurity affects more than 4 million Canadians and involves issues of poverty, health care, agriculture, climate change, education, and more. In early December, the Senate Liberals hosted a public Open Caucus meeting to discuss what steps can be taken to address the issue of food security in Canada. There was a consensus that the federal government needs to be involved with the provinces to produce tangible results.

The panelists provided stark statistics to show that food insecurity is a complex issue that must be addressed. But as Ron Bonnett, president of the Canadian Federation of Agriculture stated, we must ensure that “we don’t let this complexity drag us away from doing something about it.” He added that production and farming cannot be ignored in the equation, noting that a robust agricultural sector is vital to the availability of healthy and affordable food.

On the consumer side, food security is facilitated by education and access to affordable and healthy food. Dr. Harriet Kuhnlein, founding director of the Centre for Indigenous Peoples’ Nutrition and Environment, spoke to the particular issues facing the indigenous population who are disproportionately affected by the high cost of food. She highlighted that access to traditional foods must be taken into consideration in discussions of food security of indigenous peoples. She stated that action to improve food security “must include the human dimension—that of nutrition of the citizens.”

Executive Director of Food Banks Quebec, Zakary Rhissa, recently returned from a visit to Northern Quebec and echoed these sentiments: access to healthy and affordable food, particularly in the North, continues to be a challenge. To address the complexities of the issue, Rhissa pointed to the recommendations from Food Banks Canada’s most recent report HungerCount 2016 which included a national poverty reduction strategy, a basic livable income, and significant new investments in Northern food security.

Adopting a narrower focus, Dr. Elaine Power, professor of Sociocultural Studies at Queen’s University, spoke about individual and household food insecurity. “This is an issue of income,” she said, “it’s about poverty and it’s about income.” Ensuring a stable and adequate income which is sufficient to cover all basic necessities was one of the main goals she pointed to as a means of addressing food insecurity, particularly at the household level.

Dr. Debbie Field, executive director of FoodShare Toronto, mentioned that while she was pleased to see a reference to food policy in the minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food’s mandate letter, it was unfortunate that it was only to that minister alone. She said this ignores the fact that food insecurity touches a number of sectors, and has a particular impact on health. Field suggested that the appointment of a minister of food security would go a long way in both showing the importance of addressing this issue as well as enabling the coordination of various ministries.

Dr. Field also suggested that government action could be taken with respect to indigenous food sovereignty, a guaranteed annual income, a public food system to subsidize basic foods, and multi-level government support for student nutrition. This last suggestion is one that Dr. Field believes could be implemented quickly and would provide significant impact.

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