UN monitor probing Canada's food supply issues
Angela Mulholland, CTVNews.ca
Published Monday, May 7, 2012 8:13PM EDT
The United Nations food monitor is in Canada this week to learn about what is right -- and what is wrong -- with Canada's food distribution system.
Though the United Nations' Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, Olivier De Schutter, typically performs missions to countries with substantial food scarcity problems, Canada is the first developed country to face such a probe.
Following his visit, De Schutter will make a formal report to the UN Human Rights Council, which will become part of Canada's official human rights record.
Liberal leader Bob Rae says it's cuts by the Conservative government that have prompted De Schutter's visit.
"The fact that Canada is now the first developed country to be investigated by the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food is nothing short of a failure for the Harper Conservatives," Rae said in a statement.
He said the Conservatives' failure to create a national poverty strategy, cutting funding for Aboriginal health, and cancelling Canada's national child care program have all worsened hunger in Canada. The result has been a decline in Canada's food security to such a level "that the United Nations is now investigating," Rae said.
De Schutter's 11-day mission, which began Saturday, will take him to Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal, Winnipeg and Edmonton, as well as to remote aboriginal communities in Manitoba and Alberta.
Anna Paskal, the senior policy advisor for Food Secure Canada, which lobbies for better public access to nutritious and sustainably-produced food, says De Schutter will be looking at Canada's food supply chains and the policies that affect food access.
"De Schutter spoke at a public event yesterday here in Montreal and said one of the reasons he came is because it's scandalous that in a country as wealthy as Canada there are two million without enough to eat," Paskal told CTVNews.ca in a phone interview.
"Though he often goes to countries where there are famines and great hunger issues, one of the reasons he's come here is to show that even in wealthy countries, there can be hunger, and it's not a lack of food; it's pure political will."
De Schutter will likely want to focus on food access issues in the North, where prices for healthy foods are sometimes so high that people are often forced to feed their families cheaper, but less nutritious packaged foods.
Paskal says she hopes De Schutter will also learn about the positive steps being undertaken by many Canadians to help solve the hunger crisis in Canada.
"We'll be emphasizing that there's a vibrant food movement in Canada where we're already building a new food system from the ground up, one that's fair and ecological and one in which there would be no hunger," Paskal said.
She says that movement includes such things as food banks, community food centres, and to people who are working on getting local and sustainable food into public institutions like hospitals and universities. There are also those working on community-supported agriculture and supporting local farmers' markets.
"The solutions that are coming out of the food movement are the avenues for change that the government needs to hear about and support," says Paskal.
Olivier De Schutter was named the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food in 2008 and is tasked with recommending steps to help achieve the UN's Millennium Development Goal of halving global hunger by 2015.
He will present his preliminary findings at a press conference on May 16. His formal report to the Human Rights Council in Geneva will likely not be submitted until 2013.