Ottawa earmarks $252m to bolster food security

Funding falls short of industry requests

The federal government is seeding the country’s farmers and food sector with $252 million in funding in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Tuesday (May 5) $125 million of that figure will go towards beef and pork producers raising more animals on their land than what can currently be processed amid backlogs.

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The initiative is meant to help producers with the additional costs of raising livestock on farms for longer than anticipated.

Various meat-processing plants throughout Canada have been temporarily shuttered amid COVID-19 outbreaks hitting workers at those facilities.

Another $77 million will go towards food processors looking to bolster workplace safety for workers by providing more access to personal protective equipment, improving health protocols and ensuring social-distancing measures.

“It will also help expand or adapt our processing capacity to increase the amount of Canadian products we make domestically,” Trudeau said during his daily media briefing outside his home in Ottawa.

The remaining $50 million of the new funds will help launch a surplus-food purchase program in which the government buys large quantities of food from farmers who would have otherwise had to dispose of excess production amid mass restaurant and hotel closures.

“It’s a waste of food and loss of revenue to the people who’ve worked so hard to produce it,” Trudeau said.

The government-purchased food will in turn be redistributed to communities and families the prime minister said need support in terms of food security.

Other organizations would be responsible for distributing the food itself, rather than the federal government.

Trudeau said the government would be targeting food specifically at risk of going to waste, such as potatoes or poultry.

The $252-million investment falls significantly short of last week’s request of $2.6 billion from the Canadian Federation of Agriculture (CFA).

“This amount is based on estimates of the immediate impacts of COVID-19 provided by agricultural commodity groups across the country. The emergency fund is required because of the shutdown of the food service sector, processing plant closures and other supply chain disruptions and increases in labour and associated costs,” the CFA said in an April 30 statement.

“It should be noted that this figure was representative to the losses as of last week and losses and additional costs will continue to mount as farmers deal with the impacts of COVID-19, highlighting the continued importance of enhancing AgriStability support.”

But Trudeau said the $250 million is only an initial effort and he expects government to increase funding as needed.

“We will continue to work with farmers, with stakeholders and industry representatives, and provinces and territories, to ensure that our food capacity in this country and those people who work so incredibly hard every single day to feed Canadians get the support that they need through this crisis,” he said.

While owners and operators of food-processing facilities share responsibility for ensuring worker safety with provincial governments, the prime minister said the federal government is “happy to be part of creating solutions in this situation.”

Trudeau also said that government plans to help dairy farmers by boosting the credit line available to them by $200 million.

torton@biv.com

@reporton

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