Farm groups offer finance committee food security for thought

The Canadian Federation of Agriculture (CFA) continues to pressure the federal government to offer more support for farmers as it looks to mitigate impacts of COVID-19.

One of few parliamentary functions continuing to operate in the pandemic, the Commons standing committee on finance is responsible for studying and reporting on matters related to government spending.

In a submission tabled at the committee’s meeting Thursday, the CFA said the food supply chain is “finding it difficult, and in some circumstances, impossible to produce, process and distribute the volume of food required to feed Canadians.”

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The organization, which represents roughly 200,000 farm families, says this is the case despite agri-food being deemed an essential service. It suggests export and trade restrictions on medical supplies, as well as labour challenges, mean “Canada must plan for a scenario without reliable access to agri-food imports.”

CFA’s submission contends the focus on COVID-19 thus far has been on short-term issues and, as a result, there has not been enough attention paid to securing Canada’s food supply chain over the long term. That means further supply chain disruptions could be coming.

“The federal government must adopt a strategic, whole-of-government approach to emergency preparedness for the Canadian food supply chain, working in concert with a small selection of strategically oriented, key industry associations,” the CFA said.

A number of solutions are offered within the written submission, including the creation of an agri-food emergency fund.

The CFA suggests farmers are questioning their planting plans for the upcoming season, but that a “strong, public announcement” of an emergency fund would provide a clear signal that the federal government will support the food supply chain throughout the pandemic.

Prioritizing personal protective equipment for agri-food workers was another suggestion, with the CFA arguing farms and food businesses will require priority access to non-medical-grade masks and no-touch infrared thermometers to continue operations.

Other suggestions previously highlighted by the CFA were also included in the submission, such as the need for assistance attracting and incentivizing labour to the agri-food sector, an “immediate” stimulus through AgriInvest, and increasing AgriStability coverage.

The Canadian Cattlemen’s Association also filed a submission to the committee, saying COVID-19 has impacted the beef industry by creating market volatility, temporary plant closures and “rendering of the beef industry’s main risk management tool, price insurance, ineffective as it has become too expensive to use.”

Announcements made so far by the federal government to support the industry are not sufficient, the CCA said, reiterating its proposal for a new national set-aside program to delay the marketing of cattle when processing capacity is not available.

The CCA echoed the CFA in calling for enhanced business risk management programs and asked the federal government to deem COVID-19 a natural disaster in order to trigger the AgriRecovery program and compensate producers.

The association’s written submission also called for measures such as a new cost-shared premium to combat “sky-high” premiums in the Western Livestock Price Insurance Program.

It also called for the government to “expedite” setting up an eastern price insurance plan, as producers in the Atlantic provinces “still operate without a price insurance program.”

— D.C. Fraser reports for Glacier FarmMedia from Ottawa.

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