Thank you. I thank you very much for having invited us to appear before your committee today.
I am representing Food Secure Canada, a national alliance of organizations and individuals who are committed to achieving three goals: zero hunger, healthy and safe food, and a sustainable food system for all Canadians. We see these objectives as being interrelated.
Over the past decade, we have spoken directly with thousands of Canadians in all regions of the country about their vision for food policy. An overwhelming conclusion from our work is that we need a whole-of-government approach to food policy.
We need to work with all partners to build a common vision, common goals and common priorities. We congratulate the Department of Agriculture for having brought together 16 government agencies and departments for the development of a food policy.
Why is this whole-of-government approach so important?
We are a leading global food exporter. However, as Mr. Pegg just pointed out, four million Canadians are food insecure. Chronic-diet related diseases cost an estimated $26 billion annually in direct and indirect costs. Canada ranks 37th out of 41 countries when it comes to children's access to healthy food. I could continue to quote statistics but I would prefer to move on to our recommendations. By the end of this week, we will table a complete brief containing many detailed recommendations for the federal government. I think that it is more relevant today to give you a broad overview of the main thrusts.
The first thing we would like to see in the national food policy is a formal recognition of the right to food. It was back in 1976 that Canada signed the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and yet we have still not attained its objectives or implemented the recommendations that the UN special rapporteur on the right to food made when he came to Canada in 2012.
That's number one: let's have a formal recognition of that.
Two, it's not just a question of belief, it's a historical fact that food has been used as a weapon against indigenous peoples throughout Canada's colonial past. You just need to take a look at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission report and read the testimonies to find that denial of food, suppression of indigenous cultures, and forced labour were all part of that story.
Food also brings people together and has a great potential to repair that relationship by making sure that indigenous peoples in this country have more sovereignty over the decisions that affect their food security.
Three, we also think that a food policy for Canada needs to prioritize youth and young people. I mentioned the UNICEF report, which placed us 37th out of 41 high-income countries. We still do not have healthy school food for kids in this country, even on reserve, where the federal government has clear jurisdiction. Along with the Coalition for Healthy School Food, we are calling for a cost-shared federal program that would support all children's right to learn well by eating well in school.
Four, we think that Canada needs to support more strongly the next generation of farmers and support more clearly a diversity of farming practices. We have more farmers over the age of 70 than we have under the age of 35, and 92% of them have no succession plan. There are huge challenges for young people or new immigrants who want to enter farming or our fishing industry to access the land, the capital, and the training they need. This should be a fundamental orientation of our new food policy.
Five, we are calling for a new institution, a new national food policy council.
There is a lot to be said about this, and you'll be hearing a lot more about it over the coming months, because a lot of us have been talking with some senior officials in government but also across industry and civil society networks. We're not going to solve everything that needs to be solved in this new national food policy. It's expected to be wrapped up by about next May. There are going to be a host of issues we're not going to have time to deal with, but for various reasons, some of us feel that all stakeholders need to be sitting around the same table, not simply with the Department of Agriculture, but also with Health, and Social Development, Indigenous Affairs, and Fisheries and Oceans. All of these players on the government side need to be around the table, as do industry, civil society, the best academics, and funders.
We've been working with our partners, Maple Leaf Foods, Canadian Federation of Agriculture, Canadian agricultural policy institute, the Arrell Food Institute at the University of Guelph, and a number of others to try to formulate clear recommendations in that regard, and I'd be happy to answer your questions about them.
Six, I know that innovation is a really important theme for this government, and the government has, on our behalf, given considerable resources to innovation in the agrifood industry. We applaud that. Innovation is not only about technology; it's also about social innovation. We believe that just as the $65 million investment was made in the agrifood industry, we should make an equal investment in the social innovation that goes on in our food system. My membership is composed of people who are transforming food banks, who are experimenting with new agricultural techniques, who are finding new ways to get people the food that they need, and who are doing innovative programs in schools and campuses and hospitals. I think that's the kind of work that needs your support.
Thank you very much.