Emergency Food Forum Open Letter
Governments and the Public in Ontario
The COVID pandemic is pushing our already inequitable, ecologically
deadly and climate-threatened food system to the brink of collapse. This
summer has seen giant plagues of locusts, historic droughts and fires,
massive flooding and hurricanes, and farm labour shortages around the
The shockwaves of the pandemic crisis are reverberating in the food systems within our country, provinces, cities, communities, and homes. Canada imports 80% or more of our food during the 8-9 months we cannot grow enough of our own. This means that, as the global food system falters, our own food security is at greater risk.
But people are waking up. In March of this year, 73 organizations in the food sector joined together for the Ontario Urban Rural Emergency Food Forum Series. Farmers, activists, food policy organizations, and concerned citizens pitched their ideas and listened to others on what a resilient and just food system would look like, not only in the wake of the Covid-19 Pandemic but also in anticipation of increased climate chaos. Out of this series of forums, the Eco-Just Food Network emerged.
The Eco-Just Food Network is calling on Canadian governments and the public to help us implement four key steps in order to secure the future of our food system.
It is time to take action – you can join us!
Sign our open letter
For more information please check out these sources:
Food Policy for Canada
Food Secure Canada
Ontario Human Rights Commission: “Policy Statement on a Human Rights-Based Approach to Managing the COVID-19 Pandemic.”
PROOF: Food Insecurity Policy Research
National Farmers Union:
Governments and the Public in Ontario
From: [Your Name]
To Whom It May Concern:
This open letter on behalf of the Ontario Emergency Food Forum is addressed to governments and all relevant stakeholders concerned with our local food system.
We are Farmers, Food Justice Organizations, Co-operatives, Workers, Educators, Environmentalists, Human Rights Defenders, and people who need to eat safe healthy food. We are calling for urgent action and immediate investment to rapidly mobilize people and resources towards a just, sustainable, pandemic/climate resilient healthy food system in response to rising food insecurity.
According to the Ontario Human Rights Commission:
“It is essential that responses to COVID-19 be aligned with Canada’s international human rights treaties, domestic human rights laws and the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The laws governing declarations of emergency in Ontario and at the federal level expressly recognize the importance of complying with existing human rights protections, even in emergency circumstances.
The pandemic also offers a generational opportunity to more effectively realize rights protected in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights [(1)]. Many groups are particularly vulnerable to negative impacts from COVID-19 precisely because their economic, social and cultural rights, right to equality and Indigenous rights, have not been effectively protected or realized in Ontario and Canada over many decades.”
Human Rights law requires that all Canadians, children and future generations are entitled to healthy food, water and a safe environment. Our governments are obliged to uphold and protect the standards of the human right to food. Canada has made many commitments to respect these rights, most recently the National Food Policy. Moreover, Toronto is signatory to the Milan Food Agreement. It is therefore our collective responsibility to work with our communities and our local and federal governments, to ensure safe access to local healthy food.
We hold the following to be true:
Canada’s resource-intensive and fossil fuel-dependent food system is highly vulnerable to economic, logistical, and climate disruption. The supply of imported foods we rely on during winter is at risk due to the COVID-19 pandemic and extreme conditions such as drought, floods, wildfires and pests. Canada is also a global exporter in a time of current and projected global famine and climate chaos.
The pandemic has revealed and exacerbated existing problems within our current food system. Migrant farm workers and slaughterhouse and meat packing employees face unsafe and unjust working conditions that have resulted in COVID-19 outbreaks. Low-paid food system and other essential workers are at a high risk of contracting COVID-19 as they are pushed to work to make ends meet and frequently interact and travel with the public. Some are also working for employers who are not providing proper safety measures.
Low-income and isolated communities are already facing food shortages. It has long been recognized that there are too many food deserts in Toronto and the GTA, where many essential workers and their families also live.
There is no guarantee that today’s global supply chains will be able to provide access to healthy nutritious food for all Canadians this winter. Neither can Canada’s current at-risk food system guarantee sufficient supply to international aid and trade partners and maintain our own domestic food security, before next year’s harvests.
Climate and pandemic chaos is also impacting the home countries, communities, and families of our migrant farm workers and Toronto’s diverse racialized communities from the Global South. These countries will be hard pressed to provide healthy food security for their own people and export enough food to feed the millions of Canadians facing hunger this winter. Given that the global food crisis affects us all, just and sustainable local to global solutions are urgently needed.
Food insecurity in Canada already affects 1 in 6 children (PROOF 2019). Healthy, locally produced food is already inaccessible for low income communities, and food prices are on the rise. People of African descent, Indigenous people, People of Colour, recent immigrants, and otherwise marginalized rural and urban communities are disproportionately impacted by our failing food system (Toronto Star).
Food banks, reliant on grocery surpluses and volunteers, are not a reliable or sustainable strategy for addressing hunger during or after a pandemic. They are, at best, a temporary solution to the on-going problems of the unsustainable industrial food complex.
National, provincial, and local organizations have been conducting research and hosting discussions with diverse stakeholders on how to address the challenges of our food system and the COVID-caused food crisis, such as Food Secure Canada, The National Farmers Union, and our Emergency Food Forum (2020). It was concluded that rapidly implementing a just, sustainable and resilient local food ecosystem is necessary to meet the needs and sustain the health of all communities.
Therefore, We, the Emergency Food Forum, comprised of 73 food, farm, and food advocacy organizations in rural and urban Ontario, urgently recommend:
1. Immediate action and investment in re-purposing and improvement of local land, infrastructure, resources, and skilled labour to dramatically increase our local supply of healthy food; using emergency measures as required. This includes prioritizing the food sovereignty of Indigenous and People of African descent, preventing development on existing farmland, and encouraging the creation of urban farms that can grow food year-round in Toronto, especially in vulnerable communities.
2. Support for local organizations, co-ops, and farms in mobilizing a pandemic-prepared workforce to assist farmers and communities with the harvesting, processing and distribution of as much healthy food as possible. This food will be supplied to farmers, food system and other essential workers, their families, and the most at-risk communities.
3. Ensuring that adequate incomes, safe working and healthy living conditions are guaranteed for all farmers and food system workers. They are performing skilled work essential to preventing hunger, disease, and civil unrest while working towards the human right to healthy, safe, and sustainable food for all.
4. That government civil services collaborate with civil society to allocate the resources and infrastructure required to enable the resilience, sustainability and inclusivity of local secure healthy food systems. A bio-culturally diverse, year-round, regenerative local food economy can sustain the local population through future pandemics, disruptions, and emergencies while transitioning our economy and society to meet climate action targets and prevent ecocide.
All parties involved should strive to conduct this emergency/recovery food system response in accordance with the Dish With One Spoon Treaty’s mandate to protect and preserve the natural resources and food supply of the great lakes region for current and future generations, the UN covenants on the Rights of the Child, Economic Social and Cultural Rights, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People (UNDRIP), and other indivisible articles of human rights treaties, The UN Decade for People’s of African Descent and the 17 Sustainable Development Goals, and all related domestic policies that Canada has committed to protect, uphold and fulfill; by law and in deed.
The Emergency Food Forum
And Other Signatories
“The Human Right to A Safe and Healthy Environment.” PDHRE: The People's Movement for Human Rights Education, pdhre.org/rights/environment.html
“Policy Statement on a Human Rights-Based Approach to Managing the COVID-19 Pandemic.” Ontario Human Rights Commission, www.ohrc.on.ca/en/policy-statement-human-rights-based-approach-managing-covid-19-pandemic
Canada, Agriculture and Agri-Food. Government of Canada. Canada.ca, 21 June 2019 www.canada.ca/en/campaign/food-policy/thefoodpolicy.html
“International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.” United Nations, Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, www.ohchr.org/en/professionalinterest/pages/cescr.aspx
UN Declaration on the rights of peasants and other people working in rural areas; UNDROP; https://digitallibrary.un.org/record/1650694 and https://viacampesina.org/en/tag/undrop/
Florida, Richard. “Food Deserts and Priority Neighbourhoods in Toronto.” Martin Prosperity Institute, 15 June 2010, martinprosperity.org/food-deserts-and-priority-neighbourhoods-in-toronto/
“Canada's Food Price Report 2020.” Dalhousie University, www.dal.ca/sites/agri-food/research/canada-s-food-price-report.html
Monsebraaten, Laurie. “Black Families Twice as Likely to Go Hungry as White Households, Study Shows.” Thestar.com, 23 Oct. 2019, www.thestar.com/news/gta/2019/10/23/black-families-twice-as-likely-to-go-hungry-as-white-households-study-shows.html
Canadian Institutes of Health Research. Government of Canada “Identifying Policy Interventions to Reduce Household Food Insecurity.” CIHR, 3 Mar. 2016, cihr-irsc.gc.ca/e/47935.html
Food Insecurity Policy Research. Mar. 11 2020
Tacking the farm crisis and the climate crisis, a transformative strategy for Canadian farms and food systems https://www.nfu.ca/publications/tackling-the-farm-crisis-and-the-climate-crisis/
“Envisioning a Post-Pandemic Agriculture and Food System.” Union Farmer Newsletter. July 2020, https://www.nfu.ca/wp-content/uploads/2020/07/UF-NEWSLETTER-JULY-2020.pdf
Food Secure Canada Launches Action Plan for Food System Renewal.” Food Secure Canada, 15 May 2020, https://foodsecurecanada.org/2020-growing-resilience-equity