November 2010, the Provincial Women’s Committee held its 26th biennial OPSEU women’s conference and the topic was, “Taking Root, The Human Right to Food and Water”.
Our learning objective for the conference was to identify how food and water have become human rights issues both locally and globally. Also, to identify ways to show solidarity with food workers here and elsewhere. We wanted to look at ways we could practice everyday decisions we could make that would strengthen food and water security for everyone.
And what’s the global picture? The world is hungry. And thirsty. Food and Water have become Human Rights issues. Women comprise more than 60% of the world’s chronically hungry according to the United Nations and therefore, along with their children, constitute the majority of beneficiaries of assistance by the World Food Program. In most developing countries, women produce a good 80% of all food, and experience has shown that in the hands of women, food is most likely to reach the mouths of children in need. Investing in women is an investment in food security. The World Food Program has a “Women 4 Women” campaign that operates a huge range of programs to help feed women and their communities but the global financial crisis and high food prices are exacerbating vulnerability to food insecurity.
And how about the local picture? We hoped that the conference would give us inspiring ideas to apply back in our regions, in our roles as caretakers, workers, and community and union activists. We also wanted to strengthen our ability to critically read food ads and labels; we want to be informed and knowledgeable consumers.
FACT: Bottled water costs between 240-10,000 times the cost of ordinary tap water. In Canada, 25% of all bottled water is reprocessed tap water, so that means you are paying for water that you already paid for with your tax dollars.
FACT: 80% of plastic water bottles wind up in our landfills.
FACT: Canadian water bottling plants receive government inspections once every 3-5 years. The city of Ottawa conducts over 125,000 tests of its city water per year, and the city of Toronto checks its water for bacteria every 4-6 hours.
FACT: About 80% of people without enough food to eat are urban poor people.
FACT: In Canada, one of the wealthiest countries in the world, we have 2 ½ million people who are moderately to severely food insecure. In Northern communities, food insecurity is more prevalent, affecting 1/3 of the population in Nunavut. These numbers are on the rise. Food bank use went up 28% in the past two years alone.
FACT: Only 6% of Canada’s land is suitable for farming and just ½ % is Class 1 land, so in Ontario, between 1996 and 2006, we lost 240,000 hectares of Class 1 land. Every single day Ontario loses a square kilometer of farmland which makes us more dependent on the global food system, think about it. However, in 2005, Ontario enacted Greenbelt policy wrapping around the Greater Toronto Area and west of Niagara, an area of 325 kms long and 80 kms wide containing some of Canada’s most fertile soil. However, the ever increasing pressures of population growth and suburban sprawl are a constant threat to this.
FACT: What about the safety of drinking water on First Nation lands? What about Canadian Federal Bill S-11 – An Act respecting the safety of drinking water on First Nation lands? This Act is being actively opposed by First Nations because there are no commitments of federal money and it gives the federal government the power to force First Nations to allow private companies to build, operate and manage their water services.
“Water is a human right, public trust and global commons. While legislation addressing safe drinking water is sorely needed, any bill on the matter should be developed alongside First Nations, include explicit funding commitments and recognize the right of First Nation communities to build, own and operate their own water systems.” –the Council of Canadians
Thursday March 22nd is World Water Day and this year, the theme is Food and Water Security.
You may go to www.unwater,org and click on the link for World Water Day.
You can also go to http://www.canadians.org/water/issues/Unbottle_It/ to read about how the bottled water industry has worked incredibly hard to undermine our faith in our public water systems. Saying NO to bottled water is an excellent decision and practical action that will strengthen water security for everyone. And it’s NOT a big deal. It is absolutely do-able! There’s a bottled water fact sheet and a “5 things you can do to Ban Bottled Water” resource. Interested in food justice? Visit Resetting the Table, A people’s food policy for Canada @
Food and Water justice should be on the radar of every union activist who has a keen interest in social justice issues. There are things that we can do and decisions that we can make, one person at a time, at home, in our community, in our locals and regions that will make a difference to the outcomes of food and water security right now and in the future. And it’s not hard. It’s my hope that new ideas about food and water and the global food system will have “taken root” in the hearts and minds of our conference delegates and that perhaps you too will consider making changes that make a difference.