OFA Commentary 3629
The rising price of food
By Bette Jean Crews, President of the Ontario Federation of Agriculture
February 11, 2011 - Food prices are on the rise around the world. Some countries have predicted that the rise in food prices will bring food shortages for future generations, and protests have ignited over the higher costs for food.
The causes for rising food prices are complex. Higher input costs are partially to blame for the rising cost of food, particularly fuel. Gasoline prices in Ontario rose 16% in December alone, and other input costs for seed, fertilizers, processing and distribution have also increased. Global weather is another factor, with weather and disease affecting the food supply internationally in Russia and India. Pair that with commodity price fluctuations, export controls, and other policy measures, and it begins to become clear why the food production worldwide is at risk.
While the cost of food has increased in Canada over the past 30 years, Canadian food is still the most affordable on the planet. A generation ago buying food took over 20% of our income, but today, it represents approximately 11% of our paycheque. What’s more, by February 12th – Food Freedom Day – the average Canadian has already made enough income to pay for their grocery bills for the entire year.
In order for our food supply to be sustainable the entire food supply chain must be able to recover costs and earn a profit by adjusting food prices to reflect rising input costs. Farmers, suppliers, processors, distributors and retailers all share a piece of the revenue earned from food purchases, and farmers often get a relatively small portion after production costs are accounted for. This earning for farmers is then put back into highly-volatile and unpredictable input costs, such as fuel and fertilizer, leaving even less for farmers by the end of the day.
With rising costs due to supply and demand imbalances, our food prices will inevitably increase as a result. We need to come to grips with that simple fact. If we are to maintain our low-cost food status it’s essential we adopt and follow a National Food Strategy that will guarantee a sustainable and accessible supply of healthy food for the future.
Right now we are working with the Canadian Federation of Agriculture and agri-industry partners to finalize objectives and guidelines for a National Food Strategy that will give all levels of government actionable plans for the future of our food supply in Canada, and a framework for policies that will get us there.
Until now Canada has not initiated a Strategy for its food. That’s why we are driving this as a key focus for the OFA this year. Without a National Food Strategy in place our entire food supply cannot maintain sustainability and profitability, and we risk becoming reliant on food imports in order to feed future generations. Learn more about the vision for Canada’s food supply by visiting www.nationalfoodstrategy.ca.
What we are now seeing is the dreadful impact of food policy with misguided objectives. Much of the food shortage witnessed globally is the result of bad agriculture policy designed to keep food prices low. These policies have simply managed to limit supply as they drive farmers out of business.
Canada cannot fall victim to such short sighted policy. We must not become food dependent. Now is the time to act by choosing Canadian foods and adopting a long-term plan for the food chain that will safeguard the future of our food. We have some of the most efficient farming practices in the world and are proud to offer the most affordable food, but it’s not sustainable if we don’t put policies in place to ensure a profitable future for our farmers and the agri-food sector.
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