What a year 2020 turned out to be. The past nine months have challenged Canada’s agri-food system unlike anything in recent memory.
Although the sector showed its resiliency after weathering some shocks early in the pandemic, cracks in the system were exposed, particularly with respect to the fragility of supply chains and the labour deficit for food and beverage processors. Now that Canada is well into the second wave of the pandemic and most provinces are once again imposing severe restrictions, our food system is poised to weather this storm yet again — and the risk of destabilization is real.
The federal government says it recognizes that our agri-food sector will play a key role in economic recovery, and that food security is top of mind for Canadians. On November 20, Canada’s federal, provincial, and territorial (FPT) Ministers of Agriculture held the first of two virtual meetings as part of their annual conference. A press release stated that the Ministers “gathered virtually to make key decisions to help ensure that our agriculture and agri-food sector remains ready to address the challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic and sector development.” Discussed was “a number of initiatives to help Canadian producers and processors build on the sector’s solid fundamentals and chart a path forward for growth and sustainability.”
For food and beverage processors, the Ministers noted the “need to be ready for the potential that long-standing labour challenges are compounded by COVID-19-related disruptions in the upcoming 2021 season” and agreed that labour will remain a “top priority” when looking ahead to the next agricultural policy framework. The FPT governments also committed to working with their respective ministries of labour “to help ensure the continued availability of labour” and highlight opportunities that exist for Canadians looking for work.
FPT governments acknowledged that they will continue to collaborate with industry to share best practices on current and future competencies needed to support the renewal of the processing sector, in collaboration with the relevant ministries within their jurisdiction.
But, as COVID-19 has so bluntly shown us, such collaboration may not be easy since the agri-food sector is so fragmented. To be successful, a more cohesive approach is needed.
Kathleen Sullivan, CEO of Food and Beverage Canada identifies this in her column (see page 6). She writes, “the federal government, as well as provincial and territorial counterparts, need to rethink how we regulate and how we develop policies and programs that impact Canada’s food system. We need to recognize that all parts of the food system are integrated and that pressure on any one part impacts the whole.”
An integrated approach is critical moving forward if the agri-food sector is going to contribute to country’s economic recovery post-COVID, and overcome the challenges that already existed prior to the pandemic.
It’s not only the agri-food industry that is relying on the government to put policies in place that are effective — all Canadians are as well. The most recent public trust research from the Canadian Centre for Food Integrity shows consumer trust in food is the highest it has been in the five years it has been conducting this research (see our cover story, page 20) and that Canadians have faith in our agri-food system.
Never in my career have I seen such interest from general media in food production than I have in the past nine months. Agri-food finally has a captive audience, and everyone in industry must remind government why it is so very important that Canada’s food sovereignty is not put at risk.
Food in Canada editor Kristy Nudds ~ [email protected]
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