Monday, October 20, 2014

More Canadians can’t afford healthy diet

There are 500,000 more Canadians now than five years ago who cannot afford a nutritious diet, according to a report in the Canadian Journal for Public Health.

That brings the total to more than four million Canadians living in 1.7 million households.

Seventy per cent of these people are working, but only earning the minimum wage.

There are many Canadians who constantly worry about having enough money to buy nutritious food, says the report.

There are health consequences, including increased rates of depression, diabetes, hypertension, arthritis, back problems and asthma, says the report.

These chronic health conditions are costly for these people and the Canadian economy, more costly than providing good nutrition.

I say this is another reason why Canada needs a national food policy, not just an agriculture policy.

There are a lot of existing policies that are ripe for change to address this nutrition deficit.

One is increasing the minimum wage. Another is increasing welfare support levels.

It's also high time we abandoned supply management for the dairy and poultry farmers. It has created a class of millionaires and quota costs that put dairy and poultry farming out of reach of all but the extremely wealthy or heirs of quota holders and at the expense of the poor.

A better approach is enabling the poor to afford a nutritious diet. 

Canada stands alone in practicing supply management as a means to improve farm incomes. Most wealthy nations pay subsidies. Poor nations can't afford farm subsidies.

Canada could be pushing for a fairer world trade agreement to address this gap between rich and poor nations, but because of supply management and a few other corporate protectionist lobbies, Canada has no clout at the World Trade Organization negotiations.

It's truly amazing that problems this large get so little attention. We really cannot afford to allow such huge gaps between the rich and the poor among Canadians and in the broader world. And food is a basic necessity that ought not be denied the poor.