Seventy per cent of Canada’s beef production capacity is located in just two meat plants in Alberta. This is one of the most obvious examples of the high concentration in Canada’s food-production sector. The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed the risks to Canada’s food supply by having so much food production located in so few places.
Today, The School of Public Policy and author Jared Carlberg released a report that examines how COVID-19 has affected a modern food industry characterized by megascale agrifood-processing facilities. The report highlights the cattle and beef industry in Canada, due to its prominence in our country and its importance to Canadian food security. The report also offers three potential strategic policy responses that could help make agrifood-processing industries more adaptable and reduce the risk of future outbreaks.
According to Carlberg, “Unfortunately, the existence of megascale facilities leads to significant vulnerabilities in times of disease outbreak. Having large numbers of workers in close proximity to one another, both during the production process and in common areas, creates conditions ideal for disease spread. Given the sheer size of many modern facilities, the effects of plant shutdowns upon food supply and security as the result of outbreaks is magnified. It is thus important to consider options for mitigating these risks in an effort to avoid future such disruptions to the food supply chain.”
Three options for mitigating such risks include: Support for smaller, regional facilities, which would result in a smaller overall disruption to food supply and security in the event of a single plant closure. 2. Encouragement of alternative ownership structures, similar to the 1990s-era “new generation co-operatives” that were popular in the U.S. Northern Plains states. These co-operatives were farmer-owned and processed commodities into food products, encouraging regional investment and limiting plant scale. 3. Increased levels of mechanization coupled with enhanced intraplant safety measures.
While recent consumer trends toward local, organic and other boutique food ideals are strong, an upheaval of long-term trends toward increasing scale, which would result in increased prices, is not likely to happen. By contrast, in the post-COVID era there will be a significant public appetite for increased worker safety and reduced risk within facilities.
The report can be found here.
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