Canada's food insecurity problem is about to get worse due to COVID-19, experts say
TORONTO -- Access to affordable and nutritious food is an ongoing struggle for many Canadian families and experts warn that the situation is likely to get worse by the fall because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to a survey done in May by Statistics Canada, almost one in seven (14.6 percent) Canadians indicated that they lived in a household where food insecurity was a problem. This number is up from 10.5 percent just two years ago.
The COVID-19 pandemic has brought distinct challenges to many sectors of the food supply chain that have reshaped their operations with physical distancing, the use of personal protective gear and equipment modifications – all of which are contributing to rising costs.
“To get food to market, companies across the supply chain will need to charge more,” Sylvain Charlebois of Dalhousie University’s food analytics lab told CTVNews.ca in an interview. “In the past, there wasn’t usually much relation between the food supply chain and retail costs, but now costs are going up all around because of COVID-19. That’s why food prices cannot drop.”
In 2017, the average Canadian household spent around $8,527 annually on food. The typical inflation rate is usually between 1.5 and 2.5 per cent. Charlebois expects that number to rise closer to four per cent once the pandemic is over.
“This fall will see the worst of it as some government programs like the CERB [Canada Emergency Response Benefit] come to an end. Then we will get the full economic picture of what we’re dealing with,” he says.
Charlebois said that the federal government is already pumping a large amount of money into the economy through the CERB and that any new financial aid programs would be unlikely. He suggested that more families will consider relocating outside of major cities in an attempt to reduce their cost of living.
Those likely to be impacted the most by the spike in food prices are Canadian families who were already financially vulnerable and struggling to make ends meet before the pandemic began. Statistics Canada found that Canadians with children are more likely to be in a food-insecure household.
Another contributing factor to food insecurity in Canada is race. According to FoodShare Toronto’s Executive Director Paul Taylor, Black and Indigenous Canadians are more likely to experience barriers to affordable food.
“We know that the people who suffer the most from food insecurity are Black and Indigenous people,” Taylor told CTVNews.ca. “Research shows that Black Canadians are 3.5 times more likely to be food-insecure.”
A study by FoodShare Toronto and the PROOF research team at the University of Toronto found that regardless of homeownership and immigration status, Black Canadians continue to suffer the most from food insecurity.
“Ultimately when we talk about food insecurity we’re also talking about racism against Black and Indigenous folks,” Taylor added. “As a country, we need to recognize that racism and anti-Black racism is having a significant impact on health outcomes and access to food.”
From a policy approach, Taylor points to measures that will improve the financial circumstances of low-income households, like a universal basic income and comprehensive services such as child and pharma care.
“We live in one of the richest countries in the world,” he says. “Canadians need a basic income and comprehensive social services. When working together these could have a meaningful impact on food insecurity.”