UPDATE 1-U.N. criticizes Canada for letting people go hungry

Wed May 16, 2012 5:01pm EDT

* U.N. official says 800,000 households are "food insecure"

* Canada questions use of official's time

* Health minister dismisses him as ill-informed academic (Adds details and comments from health minister)

OTTAWA, May 16 (Reuters) - A U.N. official criticized Canada on Wednesday for allowing some of its people to go hungry, but the government dismissed him as a "patronizing academic" and said there are more pressing food concerns in other countries.

"Canada has long been seen as a land of plenty. Yet today one in 10 families with a child under six is unable to meet their daily food needs," Olivier De Schutter, the United Nations special rapporteur on the right to food, said in a statement.

"These rates of food insecurity are unacceptable, and it is time for Canada to adopt a national right to food strategy."

He said 800,000 households in the country are "food insecure". Canada has a population of 34 million.

De Schutter also raised concerns about the treatment of the country's aboriginal peoples.

Canada is the first developed country on which De Schutter has reported. U.N. spokeswoman Yoonie Kim said Canada has a standing invitation to U.N. human rights officials to visit.

Reacting to De Schutter's report, Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird told reporters the country's federal and provincial governments are focused on improving the lives of Canadians and their ability to provide for themselves.

"There are, what, 193 members of the U.N.? I think most Canadians would think that spending 11 days in Canada on this issue - his time would be better spent elsewhere," Baird said.

After De Schutter complained in a newspaper interview that no federal cabinet minister had agreed to meet him, Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq, from Canada's aboriginal Inuit population, met him on Wednesday.

But the meeting did not seem to go well.

"I met with the individual this morning and I found him to be an ill-informed, patronizing academic studying, once again, the aboriginal people, Inuit and Canada's Arctic from afar," Aglukkaq told Parliament.

"I took the opportunity to educate him about Canada's north and the aboriginal people who depend on the wildlife that they hunt every day for food security." (Reporting by Randall Palmer; Editing by Peter Galloway)

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