Most Canadians didn’t think about food security until the pandemic led to a scarcity of staples like flour and canned goods. Since then, consumers and food companies alike have been looking at issues around the stability of our domestic food supply with a more critical eye.
Sylvain Charlebois, director of the Agri-Food Analytics Lab at Dalhousie University in Halifax, says there are three pillars that need to work together to ensure food security. The first is food accessibility and distribution. For example, the Atlantic region is limited in what is grown there, so it is dependent on central Canada and the U.S. to provide much of its supplies.
Affordability is another pillar. “When prices are too high, access to food becomes a problem,” says Charlebois. “The third pillar is food safety. If any of these pillars are breached, you’re looking at a food insecure market.”
The pandemic has only added to food insecurity and challenged supply chains, he says. While it’s too early to see the data confirming COVID’s impact, Charlebois believes that the level of food insecurity has increased. “When we come out of the pandemic, we’ll have a better understanding of who’s been left behind. We just don’t know who, where, but I think the number of people who are hungry has gone up.”
The good news is that the pandemic has made consumers think about food systems. They’re gardening and growing food more than ever before and, according to Charlebois, 83 per cent say feel confident about the country’s food supply chain’s ability to deliver.
Our food system is only as secure as our farming sector— Max Koeune
To protect the supply, food processing, considered the strategic anchor of the entire system, needs to be the focus, he says. “We need to figure out a way to address labour shortages in that field,” he says, and come up with innovative ways to support processors. “They want to invest more in Canada, not less.”
Max Koeune, president and chief executive officer of McCain Foods, one of Canada’s largest agri-food companies, points out that, for the first time since the Second World War, Canadians have been faced with the prospect of real food shortages. In the past 16 months, grocery store shelves were empty on and off, food banks were running low and farmers were left with food surpluses that went to waste.
“It was an alarming situation which hasn’t completely passed,” says Koeune. “While grocery shelves in Canada look full again, there are many who struggle to access the food they need, and around the world shipping disruptions and inflation are still placing unprecedented strains on access to a reliable food supply.”
The situation has reinforced his company’s resolve to tackle the issue head on by continuing to investment in agriculture and operations, working closely with rural communities and engaging in strategic partnerships.
Consumers, governments and food companies are recognizing their responsibility in accelerating efforts to build a sustainable future, he says, “to produce more food with less waste, address food security and pivot our consumption toward products that place less pressure on our environment.”
McCain Foods, one of the world’s leading producers of prepared potato and appetizer products, is committed to protect and enhance the long-term viability of farmers, says Koeune.
“Our food system is only as secure as our farming sector,” he says. “Getting it right will be a collective responsibility – between farmers, food companies, grocers, restaurants and governments – to change and support how we grow and manage our food.”
To achieve that, McCain is focusing on regenerative agriculture practices and implementing innovative farm technology that will help produce more food while restoring soil quality, using less water, reducing carbon emissions and minimizing food waste.
The company has also made a global commitment to donate 200 million meals to food banks and NGOs by 2025. Says Koeune, “We understand now more than ever that we have a clear imperative to improve the food system.”
Advertising feature produced by Globe Content Studio with McCain Foods. The Globe’s editorial department was not involved.