John Ivison: Canada avoided a COVID-19 food shortage, but the shockwaves aren’t over yet

John Ivison: Canada avoided a COVID-19 food shortage, but the shockwaves aren’t over yet

One of the few nice surprises to have emerged from the pandemic is that predictions of food shortages have confirmed overblown to this point.

Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino instructed the House of Commons agriculture committee that 30,000 short-term international staff have been accepted, and greater than 20,000 have already arrived in Canada to assist plant and seed. Officials later clarified that 35,000 permits have been finalized and 26,000 have already arrived. That’s in need of the 45,000 which have arrived in earlier years, but it means that crops will get in the floor.

When COVID-19 first hit and the authorities enforced a journey ban, that prospect appeared distant. But Ottawa subsequently made an exception for short-term international staff and offered $50 million to assist employers implement a 14-day isolation interval for international staff as soon as they arrived.

Even if home manufacturing slips, we are able to at all times import our method out of the downside, mentioned Sylvain Charlebois, director of agri-food analytics at Dalhousie University, mentioning that the loonie has mounted a comeback after falling eight per cent in the first two weeks of March.

The worst fears about naked grocery retailer cabinets, as world provide chains melted down, have come to naught.

Meat processing vegetation in Alberta, which have been badly hit by COVID amongst their staff, are again up and working, even when at decreased capability. Processors and farmers are discovering revolutionary methods to compensate for the precipitous decline in restaurant enterprise, which beforehand accounted for greater than a third of Canadian food budgets.

The potential for catastrophe was obvious even earlier than the coronavirus struck. Food costs have been the largest concern for Canadians, pre-COVID — forward of debt, the financial system and well being — in response to Nielsen Global Connect. One quarter of Canadians had mentioned they may afford solely the necessities and 18 per cent mentioned that they had no spare money.

As the pandemic hit, and hundreds of thousands have been thrown out of labor, there existed the potential for food shortages and value inflation. The preliminary indicators weren’t good. In the week of March 21, retail gross sales hit a report $Three billion, up 54 per cent on the earlier 12 months, with food accounting for 80 per cent of the enhance.

Consumer behaviour and tastes modified dramatically. Over a interval of 10 weeks, demand for baking items soared 68 per cent, in response to Nielsen; ready food gross sales have been up 48 per cent, frozen food by 36 per cent, alcohol by 33 per cent, and paper merchandise by 52 per cent. The centre-of-store departments have been favoured forward of the perimeters, as shoppers stockpiled canned items and non-perishables.

Prices mirrored this shift. The value of a tin of baked beans rose 19 per cent between December and May, rest room tissue by 12 per cent and canned soup by 12 per cent. In distinction, the value of apples, oranges and onions really fell. Food inflation in April elevated by 3.four per cent, but the panicked shopping for of mid-March has since eased, because it has change into clear that food provide chains are resilient.

“I’ve been very impressed overall by the food industry,” mentioned Charlebois. “It is often the forgotten child, but it has been hard hit by the decline in food services and has managed to pivot in impressive fashion.”

Yet, the scare has raised the prospect of food shortage in a inhabitants that has change into complacent about the availability of wholesome fare.

A ballot by Charlebois’ division at Dalhousie, taken a 12 months earlier than COVID, discovered 76 per cent of Canadians felt that they had sufficient food and didn’t take into account entry to food a problem. By May, that quantity had fallen to 61 per cent.

The potential for catastrophe was obvious even earlier than the coronavirus struck

That the cabinets proceed to be stocked speaks to the sophistication and dexterity of food provide chains. Potential bottlenecks seem to have been overcome, regardless of border closures and the prospect of labour shortages. Farmers and processors have been helped by authorities help — Farm Credit Canada has made a further $5 billion in lending capability out there — and a partial restoration in crop and livestock costs.

Yet, the shockwaves from COVID will proceed to be felt. The restaurant enterprise will come again but not shortly. Farmers disadvantaged of that market are utilizing e-commerce to attraction on to shoppers. Charlebois mentioned there at the moment are 50 farmers’ markets on-line in Canada.

Globally, nations that really feel themselves food insecure might limit exports, as Vietnam did lately with rice. That transfer was felt in Canada, the place rice costs rose 9.2 per cent final month. Canada exports extra food than it imports, but our weight-reduction plan would doubtless change into a lot much less unique if export controls unfold. Fortunately, 42 World Trade Organization members have dedicated to strengthening world buying and selling programs in opposition to protectionism.

It is a well timed reminder that, for all our sophistication, all that lies between us and wreck is six inches of topsoil and a farmer.

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