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Food for thought: Experts gather in Montreal to discuss worldwide food crisis

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Food for thought: Experts gather in Montreal to discuss worldwide food crisis
The world food crisis has taken centre stage, at a conference on global food security, held in Montreal. Former Prime Minister Joe Clark told the conference that Canada should be taking more of a leading role in the fight against the crisis.


September 26, 2008
By Canadian Press/Brandon Sun

Former prime minister Joe Clark urged Canada on Thursday to use its strong standing on the world stage to help in the fight against the global food crisis.


"We are influential in a lot of the bodies where decisions are taken about food policy," said Clark, co-chairman of the McGill Conference on Global Food Security, which ends on Sept. 26th.


Clark named the World Trade Organization, the World Health Organization and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations where Canada could use its clout.

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"We have an immense reputation, much greater than our financial contribution or our size, in these multilateral organizations, so Canadian leadership can make a difference."


The goal of the conference is to exchange ideas and develop solutions about how to cope with the ever-growing problem, but Clark said one should be to put a dramatic face on the issue of food security – the availability of food and one's access to it.


"Everyone knows about the individual questions, the lineups in poor countries that lead to riots or the shortages they run into here in Canada," said Clark.

"Because its sources are so diverse, it's hard for people to get a sense as to what food security really is."


While it has generally been the world's poorer citizens who are clearly those hardest hit by food shortages, Canada is by no means immune to the crisis, Clark said.


"We're facing it right now, we are facing it in a different way."


Clark said many of the same factors that have led to worldwide food shortages, such as climate change and drought, have clearly had an impact here. Food banks across the country are empty and purchasing power has dropped significantly.


Still, Canada has persevered, because "we're better able to deal with it because we are a developed country," Clark said.


The Canadian response is something conference organizers hope will be cemented by the end of the meeting.


"I think that's one thing we want to get out of the conference – the Canadian input, stimulus, response, reaction to the crisis and how to help," said Dr. Chandra Madramootoo, dean of agricultural and environmental sciences at McGill University.


Despite the fact the worldwide food crisis has taken a back seat in North America to economic woes in the United States and elections both there and in Canada, the issue is still very much the main problem worldwide.


"The food crisis remains," Madramootoo said. "People are still unable to purchase basic food commodities."


A number of presenters outlined problems in different parts of the world. In India, the problems lie with infrastructure and post-food production technologies, combined with an exploding population. In Kenya and Ethiopia, presenters discussed shortages of main food staples and sharply higher prices.


Those problems are also felt here, where purchasing power has been hit hard by an increase of almost 20 percent in the price of some foodstuffs in the last six months, Madramootoo said.


And since there isn't a one-size-fits-all answer to the problem, governments will have to act accordingly.


"Countries differ, resources within countries differ, levels of expertise differ so (the response is) going to be very much country-dependent," Madramootoo said.