Agriculture This Week - Pandemic asks questions of food supply

When COVID-19 is finally under an acceptable level of control – a question being what is the acceptable level? The food sector will be left with some rather large questions to answer in terms of food security.

We have evolved the system, especially on the livestock side of things, to a few very large processors, and when something goes wrong as even one or two such plants, the system is left reeling, and the consumer is left with jumping food prices.

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From the consumer perspective the situation is a bad one since rising prices during a crisis such as COVID-19 is the last thing they want to endure. Many people are laid-off, or on reduced hours, so money becomes tight, and higher food prices simply compound the problem for families.

At the other end of the food chain is the producer with markets hammered because large scale production units are shut down.

Making the situation worse is that we have increasingly handed food processing to other countries over the years, particularly the United States.

While Canada may have done a rather admirable job in general in ‘flattening the curve’ of the current COVID-19 pandemic, news reports out of the U.S. suggest the situation there is far from under control.

From comments by President Donald Trump to a number of state governors, to the reaction of segments of the population taking to the streets armed better than soldiers headed to war, the COVID-19 situation is basically running amok down there. That is troubling for Canadians given the long shared border that a disease can come across, to the impact it can have on access to food for our tables.

There is at least some social media chatter about the need to focus more on buying Canadian, more as a backlash against China for its dispute with this country, but at least it speaks to thinking more about what we as consumers buy when we hit the stores.

Of course for many industries the ship has long ago sailed in terms of domestic production and it won’t be coming back.

Whether we should have allowed the export of as much food production as we have is a question economists and historians can debate, but the reality now is that it can impact what is in stores and how much it costs. Should the American situation blow up to the extent some have forecast, we may find out just how significant the impact can be.

That said, we can’t be too upset at the situation as many have lobbied for the supply-managed sectors of dairy and poultry to be bargained away, and of course being a largely exporting nation when it comes to agricultural production we need access to markets above all.

Calvin Daniels is Editor with Yorkton This Week.

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