Food security not a supply issue

There has been a lot of debate in the news lately about the Canadian food system. UN Right to Food Rapporteur Olivier De Schutter recently visited Canada and indicated there are currently 800,000 Canadian households that are food insecure.

He concluded that Canada has a lot of work to do in making sure more people can afford and have access to appropriate diets and a national strategy is needed to solve these issues. De Schutter noted a national strategy should be centred on nutrition and food security.

The CFA supports his call for a strategy, but thinks his scope needs to be broadened with a true understanding of agriculture and the issues surrounding food security.

The CFA, together with players along the food chain, created the National Food Strategy (NFS). The NFS is the industry’s vision for the future of food in Canada. It identifies nine objectives that governments and industry must strive for, including, the availability of nutritious food for every Canadian. The objectives of the NFS speak to the need to support the production, processing and distribution and sale of food in Canada and abroad, taking into account everything from promoting the Canadian brand and healthy lifestyles to sustaining economic growth and ecosystems, all the while making sure the players along the chain can conduct a viable business ensuring growth and prosperity for the sector.

It must be understood that the food security problem in Canada is not a food supply issue; Canada produces almost twice as much food as Canadians consume. Rather, the food security issue is a social policy issue. How can the poor or citizens in remote communities in Canada have the same access to adequate and nutritious food as the rest of society?

This requires a co-ordinated strategy to ensure that food production and distribution is tailored to and meets the needs of people in Canada and in export markets.

The CFA welcomes the federal government’s recent initiative to develop a National Farm and Food Strategy and has been in discussions with the government on ways to build on what has been developed thus far by industry and demonstrate why the NFS should be the foundation upon which they build their own strategy. De Schutter’s visit was positive in that it brought awareness to the need for a strategy, but many of his comments highlight his lack of understanding in what sustainability means and what is required to address the issue.

The paradigm De Schutter is working under is the belief that small-scale, local farms are the answer. While the development of local and niche markets is part of the NFS, these markets are high value and high price. They do provide opportunities to enhance producer returns and satisfy the demands of a more affluent consumer; however, the De Schutter solution is flawed.

A strategy driven on shifting towards only smaller scale of farms may only exacerbate the problem of food security. There is no one-size-fits-all solution, but it does require both large- and small-scale agriculture. And large-scale agriculture does not equate to a non-sustainable approach as inferred by De Schutter. Agriculture in Canada has intensified, but has continuously improved its practices to make sure it progresses sustainably.

Through the National Food Strategy, CFA has been working with many groups representing various modes of production — the NFS reflects objectives suited and agreed upon by all sides, reflective of the diverse Canadian agriculture and food sector landscape.

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