Reducing Canada's food security deficit: UN report outlines key policy recommendations

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Last week, the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA) released its annual Alternative Federal Budget (AFB), which contains a number of recommendations around food and nutrition programs. The government's federal budget will be released late this week, and we'll have full coverage including reaction from the CCPA and other civil society organizations. 

Earlier this month, the United Nations' Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, Olivier De Schutter, also made a number of recommendations for addressing food security in Canada. In a previous article, Hannah Renglich provided an overview of De Schutter's report, with a particular focus on his recommendations regarding Indigenous peoples. Here, she analysis the four other main sections of the report. 

Olivier De Schutter's report contains five subsections both commending Canadian civil society and government for many progressive and positive actions toward realizing the Right to Food, while also criticizing shortcomings and putting forward many recommendations for improvement through both a legal and policy framework.

While De Schutter suggested that Canada is behind in Economic and Social Rights protection, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and Canadian Human Rights Act could be used to protect the Right to Food.

Food availability: Agricultural policies

The first of three key elements of the Right to Food, availability requires that food should be available from natural resources as well as for sale in markets and shops. De Schutter noted the trend in Canadian agriculture toward increasingly export-led policies, which makes it difficult to support the development of local food systems, family farms and citizens' access to fresh food.

The evolution of Canadian agricultural policies toward trade liberalization, he noted, favour big business and its concentration. A heavy dependence on importing seasonal laborers also creates problematic situations in which workers have low access to healthcare and are vulnerable to removal. The Canada-European Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA), currently in its 9th round of negotiations, poses challenges for developing sustainable local food systems in Canada, as do non-discrimination policies for institutional food procurement.

De Schutter's report comments that additional challenges to creating a more sustainable and decentralized food system include policy barriers to such infrastructure as small abattoirs and the dismantling of marketing systems such as the Canadian Wheat Board. According to De Schutter, while supply management for dairy, poultry and eggs "present advantages both for food producers and taxpayers … The system should be strengthened for its advantages, but reformed with a view to a greater equity and to facilitate entry of new farmers."

Food accessibility: Protecting access to food for the poorest

The second key element of the Right to Food, accessibility requires economic (affordable) and physical access to food to be guaranteed to all individuals. In Canada, a country of 35 million people, not less than 3 million are considered poor, while 1 million are considered food insecure. Inequality in the country is increasing rapidly, and De Schutter expressed serious concern that the poorest Canadians are not sufficiently supported by social protection.

Despite anti-poverty strategies and legislation in 11 of 13 provinces and territories, he noted that these strategies are difficult to coordinate with the federal level and hard to implement at the municipal level. De Schutter recommended a more comprehensive marriage of social protection policies to support the Right to Food, including a coordinated national housing policy and legislation for the increase in minimum wage to a living wage, as supported by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.

Food adequacy: Quality of diets

As the final element of the Right to Food, adequacy connotes that food must be safe for human consumption, satisfy dietary needs, and should also be culturally acceptable. De Schutter’s comments regarding food adequacy in Canada pertain largely to the increasing number of overweight and obese Canadians, which combined make up 62.1 per cent of the population. A troubling 8.6 per cent of children between the ages of 6-17 are obese, as are 25 per cent of adults.

During the webcast, De Schutter commended school nutrition programs as a mechanism to both support access to adequate diets for children, to build links between local producers and urban populations, and to teach children about cooking and nutrition in such a way that they might bring this culture of healthy eating and food preparation home.

De Schutter recommended banning trans-fatty acids as well as junk food advertising to children. Quebec is the "only province to have banned advertising directed towards children under 13 years of age, an initiative that may be largely symbolic until all provinces follow suit." Finally, De Schutter addressed land zoning policies as key to improving food adequacy, in order to improve access to affordable food for low income areas

Food aid and development cooperation: Foreign policy

 Olivier De Schutter both "applauds the contribution of Canada to global food security" and calls on Canada to improve "the contribution of Canadian development cooperation to the realization of the right to food … by grounding its duties under the ODA Accountability Act on well-established international human rights norms and standards."

The Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food reminds Canada of the Maastricht Principles on Extraterritorial Obligations of States in the Areas of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights "to ensure not only that they respect human rights outside their national territory, but also that they protect human rights and contribute to fulfilling human rights."


Hannah Renglich holds an MA in Natural Resources and Peace from the UN-mandated University for Peace and a bilingual BA in International Studies from Glendon College, York University. For the past seven years, Hannah has worked with food security organizations as well as on ecological farms and community gardens, feeding her interests in food sovereignty and environmental justice. Hannah is fascinated by the power of co-operation and the facilitation of social consciousness, and motivated by the potential of small differences to fuel impactful change. She sits on the boards of the Carrot Cache, the West End Food Co-op, and REAP-Canada, as well as the advisory councils of Urban Produce and Nourishing Ontario.  She writes and teaches about food justice and building a culture of peace through food through the PeaceMeal project. While getting acquainted with the world, Hannah is trying to find a way to apply her energy toward the development of hope and human agency, while gleefully coordinating the Ontario-wide network of Local Organic Food Co-operatives.

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