COVID-19 highlights food system inequities: time for systemic change



Concerns about food insecurity and food sovereignty are being amplified by COVID-19. Today, the Government of Canada announced “$27 billion in direct support to Canadian workers and businesses, plus $55 billion to meet liquidity needs of Canadian businesses and households through tax deferrals to help stabilize the economy.” This includes support to help Canadians pay for rent and groceries through various income-support measures, credit available for small businesses and farmers, and a variety of other supports.

The latest statistics released last week by PROOF show that food insecurity is on the rise, moving us further from the UN Sustainable Development Goal of Zero Hunger by 2030. This target was adopted by the Government of Canada in 2015 and aligns with the Food Policy for Canada. COVID-19 risks making matters considerably worse. We are therefore relieved to see that the Government of Canada has seized the opportunity to prioritize the needs of the most vulnerable in our society in terms of accessing the necessities of life. This includes supporting the most affected households, those in precarious employment, those experiencing homelessness, and the working poor, including many working in food production, processing, and food service sectors. The government has also rightly acknowledged the unique needs of Indigenous peoples as part of this package. Evidence shows that racialized communities are also disproportionately affected by food insecurity. Whether this package goes far enough will remain to be seen and Food Secure Canada will communicate further as this rolls out.

In addition to protecting the immediate public health of Canadians, this crisis is an opportunity to strengthen our food system overall, revitalize rural economies, improve the health of Canadians, and build resilience - to climate change and other system shocks - now and into the future. We hope the details of this stimulus package will be an opportunity to support the kind of deep transitions in food and agriculture that will lead to healthy, just and sustainable food systems in an immediate and practical way. Civil society organizations have a wealth of invaluable expertise on the ground, not only in terms of emergency food aid and creating community food centres, hubs and school food programs, but also in connecting small food producers, processors, distributors, wholesalers and retailers in a manner that supplies local Canadian markets. The current crisis provides a window for the Government of Canada to support and enable these domestically-focused and often local efforts, and move away from an excessively export-oriented food economy. We need to reprioritize strengthening our domestic food systems to meet the needs of all Canadians in a more healthy, equitable and sustainable manner.


To learn more on the latest stats on food insecurity in Canada, join us for a webinar with Valerie Tarasuk of PROOF on Thursday March 26, 12:30 pm EST. Register here.