Feds urged to declare food supply chain essential service

Urgency is growing for the federal government to declare the food supply chain as an essential service during the COVID-19 pandemic, given some have warned the crisis could cause price increases and potential shortages.

Alberta Agriculture Minister Devin Dreeshen urged for the declaration today, saying it would help maintain a stable and safe food supply during the pandemic.

Despite grocery store shelves being empty at times, governments have said the food supply chain system remains intact.

Speaking to reporters, Dreeshen said the declaration would require businesses that are responsible for growing, processing and delivering food to remain open and possibly increase production. They would remain open even if other industries were ordered to shutter.

Facilities might need to run around the clock and hire additional workers, he added.

Farmers have also been voicing their concerns about the food supply system, saying ports, railways, trucks and processing facilities need to keep running.

“We’re in unknown territory. We have concerns about potential problems,” said Todd Hames, president of the Alberta Wheat Commission, speaking to the Canadian Press. “That’s why we need to have governments recognize that farming is an essential service supplying food for the world.”

Mary Robinson, president of the Canadian Federation of Agriculture, told CBC Radio’s The Current Wednesday that she expects there to be a decent amount of food, but it might look different.

She said she was pleased to see shelves full of food when she recently went to the grocery store.

She said temporary foreign workers are hugely important to the industry. The federal government is still allowing temporary foreign workers, including migrant farm workers, to travel into Canada this year, exempting them from some COVID-19 travel restrictions.

However, Robinson said there might be more opportunities for Canadians to work in agriculture, given the industry is still short employees and that demand might increase.

In Alberta, Dreeshen said the province’s food supply system remains strong.

He said the province has been in constant contact with industry partners to monitor the supply chain.

He said there is no need to stockpile food and supplies. Hoarding causes additional pressure on the system, he added.

He said keeping the U.S. border open to the movement of essential goods is crucial.

The country’s major railways have continued to operate.

Sean Finn, executive vice-president with Canadian National Railway, said it is continuing to move goods at pace that serves customers and the economy.

He said grain movement has been strong, with 7,000 grain cars spotted per week. It’s expected grain shipments may improve.

CN has been ensuring its employees are healthy and safe during the pandemic, Finn added.

Contact jeremy.simes@producer.com

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