Thank you for your invitation.
I am happy to participate in these consultations and to have an opportunity to present our views, especially on the accessibility of quality food at affordable prices for people experiencing food insecurity.
I am here as a representative of my organization. My comments do not necessarily reflect the views of organizations from my region.
As a regional food bank, Moisson Outaouais is the primary provider of food assistance in the Outaouais region. We supply a network of 32 organizations that respond to thousands of requests a month.
We work with agri-food businesses, tackle food waste by salvaging unsold products in supermarkets and establish partnerships with the corporate world. In addition, we educate Canadians about hunger and are constantly developing new projects in a collective effort to alleviate hunger, while encouraging food self-sufficiency as much as possible.
The fact that we are part of a large structured network, Les banques alimentaires du Québec—which in turn is affiliated with Food Banks Canada—gives us access to significant quantities of food acquired through donation agreements with industry and enables us to benefit from national fundraising drives.
Here are some figures on the situation in the Outaouais. Every month, from 7,000 to 10,000 individuals use food assistance; one-third of those served are children; half of the people served are individuals living alone; finally, nearly 80% of users return every month, and in 28% of cases, they return more than once a month.
The number of immigrants, seniors and persons with disabilities who use the service is growing every year.
Right now, we redistribute over 600,000 kilograms of food every year. Despite all our efforts to improve our supply and meet the needs, last year, 37% of organizations in our network lacked food. Since we essentially give away what we receive, there are shortcomings in our food supply in terms of quantity, but also in terms of quality. Among the products we lack regularly are milk, eggs, and fresh fruits and vegetables.
Poverty forces people to turn to food assistance. Food is abundant in stores, but low-income people don't have access to that food, since they cannot afford it. The vast majority of people who use food assistance are living on public support, be it old age pension, disability pension, social assistance or employment insurance. This shows that those programs are inadequate because they are largely insufficient to meet basic needs.
However, I do want to mention that recent measures taken by the Canadian government in relation to the guaranteed income supplement for seniors and the Canada child benefit have led to a slight drop in those clienteles in food banks.
Food banks were mainly created in the 1980s to deal with a difficult economic situation that was supposed to be temporary. Thirty years later, they are more active than ever and meet real vital needs to address food insecurity. This has been especially true since the 2008 recession, when the demand skyrocketed and has remained high.
The food balance sheet for Canadians is not very gleaming. The U.N. Special Rapporteur on Right to Food made sure to remind us of that during his 2012 mission.
The rate of Canadian households affected by moderate and severe food insecurity is estimated at 7%. In the Outaouais region, that represents about 30,000 people. Of that number, one-third of the individuals resort to food assistance. Those are the people who are the most seriously affected. They have used up all their resources before they get to that point. They have moved into cheaper housing, obtained wage advances, gotten into debt and defaulted on payments. They have skipped meals and received help from friends and family. By the time they come to a food bank, they are extremely disadvantaged.
Food is the most elastic part of the budget. That is where people cut back when they have to tighten their belts. They can't risk losing their home or having their car seized, especially when they live in the regions, where public transit is not widely available.
Using food banks is neither a rewarding nor a normal way for people to feed themselves. Yet 863,492 individuals in Canada, with 171,800 of them in Quebec, use it every month because they have no other choice.
So the food baskets and meals provided by assistance agencies are part of their food supply. Without that assistance, their health and even their lives would be compromised, as would the country's cohesiveness and social and political stability.
While certain consumer products may be less expensive than they were 30 years ago, the opposite is true for food products. Our purchasing power has been reduced. Moreover, the gap between the richest and the poorest has widened.
The price of food forces the most disadvantaged to make choices that can compromise the quality of their food. The cheapest food is also the least healthy. Soft drinks are cheaper than milk. A bag of cookies is cheaper than a bag of apples. Since junk food is more widely available and accessible than healthy food, it is the daily diet of many young children in Canada. As a result, our children are increasingly overweight and the incidence of chronic diseases is rising steadily in our population.
Food is the chief determinant of health. Right now, three out of four deaths are attributable to chronic diseases that could have been delayed or prevented. Moreover, the incidence of chronic diseases varies with socio-economic status, and poor people have the highest incidence. Canada's food policy can reverse this trend by taking preventative measures before problems arise.
Canada's proposed food policy seeks to bring about social change. In order to be successful, this policy must be horizontal and interdepartmental, and involve the federal, provincial, and municipal orders of government. Moreover, it must address food insecurity and, more broadly speaking, poverty.