On 27 October while on mission in Korea for the United Nations Development Programme I along with several others received a request from the Office of the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food to provide inputs to frame his forthcoming mission to Canada in May 2012. As none of what I have said is confidential, I thought I would share what I think should be the focus of the mission:
a. continuing food insecurity is a fact of life across much of the country – the use of food banks was at a historic high in 2010 and growth was most rapid in the fastest-growing part of Canada, Alberta. More information can be found at http://www.cafb-acba.ca/default.aspx and in particular Hunger Count 2011, available at http://www.cafb-acba.ca/getmedia/34ebd534-14db-4bed-96d2-4fcadd5d9a33/HungerCount-2011-web-print-friendly.pdf.aspx?ext=.pdf. There are systemic violations of the right to food in Canada.
b. the threat to small-scale 'family' farming across the breadth of Canada continues to rise as high costs and low incomes facilitate the ongoing consolidation of large-scale export-oriented farms. More information can be found at http://www.nfu.ca, who as recently as May 2011 produced a policy brief on these processes for Ontario, available at http://www.nfu.ca/briefs/2011/farm_ontario.pdf. Despite being a massive producer of food, Canada does not have food sovereignty.
c. in western Canada the threat to small-scale 'family' farming has been deepened by the Federal Government's Bill C-18, the Marketing Freedom for Grain Farmers Act. This bill abolishes the sole-purchaser role of the Canadian Wheat Board (CWB) (which also buys barley), which currently negotiates bulk commodity prices on behalf of western grain farmers with the global grain-buying companies to whom the CWB sells. The clear intention is to enable global grain-buying companies to buy directly from farmers, forcing them into competition with each other, and thus driving down prices. While this will benefit large-scale farms that reap economies of scale, small-scale grain farmers incomes' will fall. More information can be found at http://www.nfu.ca, while the Government's position can be found at http://www4.agr.gc.ca/AAFC-AAC/display-afficher.do?id=1318619331542&lang=eng. Bill C-18 will make securing food sovereignty more difficult.
d. the consolidation of corporate concentration in input provision, food traders, processors and supermarkets is ongoing in Canada. This is clearly documented every year in Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada's An Overview of the Canadian Agriculture and Agri-Food System, a summary of which can be found at http://www4.agr.gc.ca/AAFC-AAC/display-afficher.do?id=1295963199087&lang=eng. The complete report must be ordered from the ministry. The issues surrounding corporate concentration in the food system are similar in Canada to those facing some other developed capitalist countries, and stand in clear contradiction to the concept of food sovereignty.
a. aboriginal Canadians living in more remote parts of the country witness specific violations of the right to food. Food is much more expensive than in urban Canada, and particularly perishable fresh food. This can be documented at http://www.aadnc-aandc.gc.ca/eng/1100100035941, although the data is not current. Also of note is the dated http://www.gov.mb.ca/ana/food_prices/2003_northern_food_prices_report.pdf. One result of expensive fresh food is a need for food baskets to rely on processed foods, which in turn produce a concomitant tendency towards food-based health problems. For example, the link between food security and aboriginal diabetes is explicitly recognized (http://www.parl.gc.ca/HousePublications/Publication.aspx?DocId=3067091&Language=E&Mode=1), and has resulted in Federal government intervention (http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/fniah-spnia/diseases-maladies/diabete/index-eng.php).
b. in addition, over the past few decades environmental changes have reduced the supply of indigenous foods and indigenous food knowledge has more generally declined amongst aboriginal Canadians (http://www.fao.org/wairdocs/other/ai215e/AI215E04.htm). This compromises the ability of aboriginal Canadians to achieve food sovereignty.
c. in many parts of Canada access to indigenous foods requires access to lands from which aboriginal Canadians were expelled long before the 21st century. Thus, ongoing land claims across the country have implications for the right to food amongst aboriginal Canadians (http://ainc-inac.gc.ca/eng/1100100030285, http://www.aboriginalcanada.gc.ca/acp/site.nsf/eng/ao20009.html)
iii. Programs and initiatives
a. the interest in food access, quality and production issues amongst urban Canadians in their late teens and early twenties and in tertiary education is quite remarkable, where there is a growing explicit awareness of food sovereignty as a means of achieving the right to food (for example, http://www.mealexchange.com/). Canadian civil society takes food issues very seriously.
b. in addition to the National Farmer's Union (http://www.nfu.ca) and Slow Food Canada (http://www.slowfood.ca/) there are a number of civil society groups organized around food (for example, http://foodsecurecanada.org/; a comprehensive list can be found at http://www.foodstudies.ca/organizations.html)
c. the Toronto Food Policy Council is widely recognized as a model for community mobilization around improved access to and control over the local food system (http://www.toronto.ca/health/tfpc/).
I am looking forward to the Special Rapporteur's mission with great interest.
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