Canada Must Take Steps to Deal with Food Security

Nations rise and fall based on their ability to feed themselves.
In an increasingly global marketplace, where developing nations rely heavily on exports from other countries to feed themselves, any interruption in supply causes a chain reaction that reverberates around the globe.
As a member of the Standing Committee on Agriculture & Agrifoods, I had the opportunity, recently, to speak with a member of Ukraine’s parliament. She offered a bleak assessment of the current geopolitical situation. Ukraine, like Canada, is a food-producing giant—often called the breadbasket of Europe. While farmers in Ukraine continue to produce crops, the war will make it very difficult to get those crops to market. As a result, developing nations, particularly those in Africa (who rely heavily on grain imported from Ukraine) will see even greater food shortages than normal. These food shortages will lead to unrest and violence in what is already a desperate and volatile part of the world. This is just one example of how, in a global marketplace, conflict in one nation can destabilize a much wider region.
But let’s look closer to home. While both Canada and the United States are food-producing giants, our own food supply may not be as secure as we think.
Over the past decade, China’s inability to feed itself has led to them buying up millions of acres of available farmland and agriculture products in Canada and the United States.
As South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem recently wrote:
“To keep our food supply consistent and affordable for all families, it is essential no one else control it. When another nation controls your food, it controls you.”
While governments in Canada and the US have put measures in place to manage risk in our food supply, there are always ways around such regulations for those who are unwilling (or who can’t afford) to abide by the spirit of such laws.
For example, for years, China has been making investments in chemical and fertilizer companies without which contemporary North American agriculture could not take place.
Noem continues: “While Americans have awakened to China’s military expansion and its grab for critical minerals worldwide, we have not yet realized our strategic vulnerability when it comes to our nation’s food supply.”
Consolidation of food processing offers its own threat. For example, the US beef industry has consolidated into four major packagers. Last May when JBS foods were hacked, 20% of America’s beef supply went offline overnight. We have also seen a severe shortage of baby formula as a result of, again, a single plant experiencing a contaminant and shutting down for months.
What happens south of the border invariably affects Canadians, and when it comes to food, monopolies equal vulnerability.
Canada is already experiencing the threat of Avian Flu, African Swine Fever, runaway inflation, and crippled supply chains. The war in Ukraine has led to a severe fertilizer shortage and changing weather patterns and events have made growing seasons and conditions less predictable.
Moreover, our voracious and wasteful consumer culture has led to a whopping 58% of food produced in Canada going to waste.
According to research by Toronto-based Second Harvest, some $4.82 million tonnes of food is lost or wasted during processing and manufacturing and some 2.38 million tonnes are lost at the consumer level.
In short, the abundance of food we produce in Canada has led us to dismiss its intrinsic value and we waste more than we consume. This too is a vulnerability.
All of this adds up to a stark reality. Our food supply is not as secure as we think.
The next crisis may be about food.
There are common-sense solutions to address these issues. The government must take steps to address these vulnerabilities and ensure Canada’s food supply remains safe and available for families.