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Why is it so difficult to have an honest discussion about food security? The answer, put simply, is because there are a lot of interests eyeing up a pretty small pie.
Recently, the Conference Board of Canada’s Centre for Food in Canada visited Vancouver and asked the Vancouver Food Policy Council, among other groups and food professionals, to participate in a food strategy consultation. (The Conference Board of Canada defines itself as a “not-for-profit applied research organization in Canada” that is “objective and non-partisan”.)
The organization says it wants to formulate “a food policy for all Canadians.” It seems encouraging at first that food policy and food security are being examined from so many different angles. Until, that is, we start looking a little deeper at how this research is conducted and who and what might benefit from it.
After the meeting, members of Vancouver Food Policy Council were disappointed enough to express their dismay in open letter to the Conference Board of Canada.
“It was not a good use of people’s time and expertise to be there to simply fill out a paper copy of an online survey that has been on your website for months. Your request for participants to rank the various pre-determined outcomes outlined in the survey did not facilitate any discussion of collaborative opportunities or concerns ... but rather it seemed you simply wanted endorsement of the vision and direction that you had already laid out.”
The VFPC is concerned that the Conference Board of Canada's intention is to guide Canada’s food system to becoming one “that is increasingly industrialized, technologized, de-regulated and oriented primarily to global markets.”
“Your attempt to create “a food strategy for all Canadians” is admirable, however the VFPC questions whether the Conference Board and its investors truly represent all Canadians in this process.”
In other words, there are a lot of high stakes interests in the food industry, including mega agriculture, chemical and fertilizer industries, factory farms, packaged food industries, and food-to-fuel industries, to name just a few. How policy is shaped in the near future will mean huge profits for some and huge losses for others. Meanwhile, actual food security, as in whether or not people the world over will have access to nutritious food, seems to be low on the list of priorities in the face of big business.
The VFPC points out that there there already exists considerable research and consultation about food security in Canada, that can provide a framework on which to facilitate discussions and create policy. (And this is not the first criticism of the Conference Board’s agenda on food security.)
Predictions in food security are as difficult as predicting the weather—political unrest, climate change, even marketing and the powerful lobbyists all affect our food landscape, and sometimes quite suddenly.
However, there are well researched opinions (like in Lester Brown's new book, Full Planet, Empty Plates) that predict an unstable food future, not just for Canadians, but for everyone on the planet.
At home, Canadians deserve an open and honest discussion about how food is produced and distributed in this bountiful and agriculturally diverse land, and how Canadian citizens, not just industry and corporations, should and could enjoy complete food security.
For more fun facts on food security, follow me on Twitter @Elecia_C!