Shockproofing Canada: Empty grocer racks don’t signify food security concerns, but there are challenges looming

Shockproofing Canada: Empty grocer racks don’t signify food security concerns, but there are challenges looming

Canada requires to become more safe and secure by ending up being more self-sufficient. In a brand-new series– Strong & Free: Shockproofing Canada– the Post analyzes how a nation made wealthy by globalization and trade can also safeguard itself versus pandemics and other unknown future shocks to ensure some of our immense resources and economic power are booked for our own security.

The important things about an excellent, tough supply chain is that no one pays much attention when it’s working. “The supply chain is uninteresting, up until things go off the rails,” as one food economist put it today.

And things have been off the rails for a while now. The empty grocery store rack has actually ended up being a sign of all the worry and frustration caused by a society tipped upside down by an international pandemic, with people baking instead of celebrating the start of barbecue season, hoarding toilet tissue and purchasing even dirty canned food off racks.

However for individuals who pay very close attention to the nationwide food supply chain, empty racks aren’t that big or scary an issue. The more complex problems are expected in the near future, as the system comes across traffic jams in production brought on by possible labour shortages at farms or virus outbreaks at processing plants.

Those concerns sound like coronavirus-specific problems, but some of the underlying weak points existed ahead of time and they can be fixed in time for the next crisis. But they really do not have much to do with the recent rash of empty shelves at your regional grocer.

Empty racks, while frustrating for customers, are easy to find out.

Food producers, processors and merchants use historical buying data to forecast future need, then make and purchase enough product to satisfy that anticipated need. Their designs aren’t made to prepare for a huge international pandemic that dramatically changes the eating practices of an entire civilization, shutting down practically every level of the food-service industry and forcing most individuals to prepare for themselves.

People are shopping for more groceries instead of eating in restaurants. They’re stocking up on staples and filling freezers. And it took food processing plants and distribution centres a few weeks to overtake that modification in need, hence the empty shelves.

The alternative would imply having to pay more for items so that manufacturers might keep huge inventories on hand “simply in case the world closes down,” said Michael von Massow, a food economist at the University of Guelph in Ontario.

Having total food security is a pricey trade-off, considering these once-in-a-generation crises occur, well, when in a generation. The food supply chain has actually weathered the recent panic-buying surge pretty well, all things thought about.

” I consumed an avocado the other day,” von Massow stated. ” W hile we did have some empty shelves for a short period, the system is catching up and we’ve come through it.”

Migrant farm employees, many of them from Central and South America, like these guys revealed choosing peas near London, provide the foundation of much of Southwestern Ontario’s farm labour.


In a few months, we would generally see a lot of fresh Canadian fruit and vegetables coming onto the market, I think that’s in jeopardy right now

Canadian Federation of Agriculture president Mary Robinson

” In a few months, we would normally see a lot of fresh Canadian fruit and vegetables coming onto the market, I think that’s in jeopardy right now,” said Canadian Federation of Agriculture president Mary Robinson.

Such options might play a function the next time the food system enters what Evan Fraser, director of Guelph’s Arrell Food Institute, calls the second stage of crisis management, which is when the supply chain starts to adapt to a big part of the food-service market going dark practically overnight.

There is a whole supply chain set up to service restaurants, and redirecting all that food to grocery shops isn’t as simple as it sounds.

A dairy farmer gathers milk on a farm in Ontario. Milk discarding began this month as demand unexpectedly moved following the mass closure of dining establishments and schools.

Reuters/Alex Filipe

When workers get ill with the virus, it’s going to spread really quick and that whole center is going to go dark

Evan Fraser, director of Guelph’s Arrell Food Institute

The Canadian federal government has actually also been under some pressure to boost the domestic food processing sector, which has moved south over the past a number of years.

One federally moneyed supercluster is already focused on establishing a domestic industry to procedure dried beans, peas and lentils into plant-based meat alternatives, similar to Beyond Meat products, which is made from yellow peas that are often grown in Canada however processed in France or U.S.

” We say processed food is bad.

” If we had more processors, so if one processor goes down due to the fact that some of the people get ill on the line, then it ‘d be easy to shift some of that processing center to another place,” Fraser said.

Chicks at a hatchery in Edmonton. If processing plants can’t take the chickens, farmers will not have the ability to keep them.

Greg Southam/Postmedia

If processing plants can’t take the chickens, farmers won’t have the ability to hold onto them. The birds will keep growing, requiring farmers to euthanize some of their flock or have overcrowding in their barns.

It takes about six to eight weeks to raise a chicken. The hatcheries need to know ahead of time the number of chicks the farmers want for the coming eight-week cycle. And the farmers need to understand the number of chickens the processing plants have the capacity to cut up.

The approaching cycle is from mid-May to early July. Back in February, the CFC set the chicken supply for that cycle at a total of 285 million kilograms of live chickens.

However at next week’s meeting, the board will discuss whether that total will require to be lowered, Bishop-Spencer stated.

Market representatives stated concerns about the processing capability in poultry are still in the hypothetical phase, with plants in the middle of contingency planning for every single what-if scenario so they can keep operating.

That’s simply one sector.

As the summertime nears and the crisis continues, the strengths and weak points in the nationwide food system will begin to come into sharper and sharper focus, Fraser said.

” That’s where things get most fascinating.”

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