Of all the issues that can destabilize global stability, “food security” is often the least discussed, despite the fact that it often has the biggest impact on the stability of economies.
Controlling the supply and maintenance of food distribution for any given population is one of the major responsibilities delegated to governments. People entrust their government to make sure that food is being produced at an edible quality, and with sufficient supply.
This task is done better by some governments than others; however, even those governments that are considered to be well-managed and efficient in producing and supplying food are failing parts of their own population in major ways. One of those countries is Canada, where 800,000 households are considered “food insecure” by the UN Special Rapporteur on food.
The Meaning of Food Security
The term “food security” is a broad-ranging term that covers both the physical presence of food (i.e. the ability to grow and produce food), as well as the ability to purchase food at an affordable price. The Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) of the United Nations defines food security as:
“A condition in which all people, at all times, have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life” [Emphasis added]
As you can see from the definition, it is not just relating to the availability of food, but also focuses on the importance of safe and nutritious food. Therefore, one cannot say that the increased availability of fast food in major urban centres allows us to say that major urban centres are assumed to be food secure, since it is assumed that fast food does not meet the definition of being a food-secure economy.
Furthermore, the ability to meet the definition of food security is also dependent on the food preferences of the population in question. It is not sufficient to say that an urban centre is to be considered food secure due to increased availability of fast food if there are significant segments within that population that do not prefer fast food.
Therefore, when we discuss food security, we must focus on the ability of a household to have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food that will meet their dietary needs and food preferences. This focuses the definition on a household’s ability to purchase food from local suppliers at an affordable rate on a consistent basis.
The Issues in Canada
In 2012, Statistics Canada identified that 5% of Canadian children and 8% of Canadian adults were considered “food insecure”, meaning that they did not have access to a sufficient variety or quantity of food due to lack of money. This means that approximately 8.3% of Canadian households were unable to feed themselves from time to time, and it was not because there was no food in the country to feed them.
That figure jumps dramatically in Nunavut, one of Canada’s northern territories, where 36.7% of households in that territory were considered food insecure.
The report from Statistics Canada identifies other problematic statistics about the status of Canada’s food security. Despite the fact that these numbers are relatively lower than developing countries that face more systemic problems, it is still surprising to find such numbers in Canada, one of the most economically developed countries in the world.
An issue relating to food security is the availability of clean water. In this issue, too, Canada faces some concerning numbers, especially when looking at how it disproportionately affects Aboriginal communities.
For example, if you look in Ontario, you will find the highest number of boil-water advisories, many of which have been long-standing or permanent. That fact has led to Human Rights Watch to call on the Canadian government to take urgent steps to correct this issue.
Considering the fact that Aboriginal communities suffer from both food insecurity and boil-water advisories, it is clear that life as an Aboriginal Canadian is neither easy nor safe. It also affects Canada’s ability to champion human rights causes around the world where it denies its most affected citizens essential human rights such as food and water.
Plans for Change
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau vowed to end boil-water advisories in Aboriginal communities within five years of forming his government while campaigning in 2015.
However, when it comes to food security, there is still a lack of concrete, easily identifiable steps that political parties are willing to commit to. In the lead-up to the 2015 federal election, Food Secure Canada (an NGO that advocates for food security and eradicating hunger) asked the federal parties what their plans are for dealing with Canada’s food insecurity issues. Many of the parties agreed that there needed to be a “National Food Strategy”, but offered little explanation as to what that would look like. Most of the parties explained that their plans to deal with food insecurity would focus on providing affordable housing, additional financial benefits, and a general promise to work with civil society groups to develop a comprehensive food plan.
In February 2016, Canada’s Minister of Agriculture indicated that there would be Aboriginal input on a National Food Strategy that he has been tasked to put together. However, as of the time of writing this, no such strategy has been tabled by the Canadian government, despite numerous proposals coming from groups such as the Canadian Federation of Agriculture, the Conference Board of Canada, and Food Secure Canada.
The Importance of Dealing with Food Security
Food insecurity is not the most exciting topic of discussion. For many Canadians, it is not even an issue that directly concerns them, as they are likely in a household not affected by food insecurity. However, when it comes to issues that can be fixed, food security is thankfully within the realm of attainable results for Canada. That’s mainly because food security in Canada has more to do with the economic access to food as opposed to the physical ability to grow said food.
Food insecurity in Canada has other impacts on the economy as well. Households that are food insecure report higher malnutrition, and therefore are more likely to get sick or be unable to work. This puts a strain on the healthcare system, and lowers productivity in the workplace.
Finally, the importance of dealing with food insecurity in Canada from an early stage is demonstrated by the Syrian example. There are some who have identified food insecurity as one of the early causes of the Syrian Civil War (for full explanation as to how this occurred, read my article here). These effects were felt when there was a complete collapse of an agricultural system; one does not need to wait for such an occurrence in Canada before realizing the importance of the issue of food security.
Therefore, Canada needs to take proactive steps to deal with this problem so that it respects the fundamental rights relating to food security, and also to have the moral standing to advance human rights causes around the world.