Expect higher prices, not food shortages due to coronavirus pandemic, expert says

A shopper leaves a grocery store carrying his groceries in plastic bags in Brossard, Que. on August 30, 2016. Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press

With some beef and poultry plants closing temporarily because of COVID-19 outbreaks, are we heading towards a shortage of those products and higher prices?

Meat, pork and chicken aren’t going to disappear from store shelves, but consumers could face less selection and higher prices, said Kevin Kenny, the chief operating officer with Decernis, a Washington, D.C.-based risk management firm for the food and beverage industry.

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He said the national food supply chain is stressed with several poultry and beef plant closures both in Canada and the U.S.

“There will be times when you go to the supermarket and you just can’t find certain pieces of meat,” Kenny told Global News.

A lack of migrant agricultural workers coupled with the closing of restaurants is also causing a steep drop in demand, he said. Meanwhile, he said, large amounts of food, such as potatoes, aren’t getting processed.

Last weekend, Global News reported that the Canadian Potato Council, which represents 1,000 potato growers across the country, has asked the federal government for urgent help because the demand for french fries has all but dried up.

Click to play video: 'COVID-19 pandemic: Canadian meat and potato industry in crisis'
COVID-19 pandemic: Canadian meat and potato industry in crisis

“I do hope it’s a fairly short-term problem,” Kenny said. “It’s definitely worrisome, and I think it will be years before we completely sort out the changes in the supply chain after this.”

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Federal Agriculture Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau and others have acknowledged that supply chain problems could result in higher prices and potential shortages of certain products, though has reassured the public there will be no food shortages.

Gord Johns, the NDP MP from Port Alberni, B.C., has suggested the federal government institute a “Canada Purchase Program” to essentially become the buyer of last resort for fish, seafood and other agricultural products where demand has dropped off.

– with files from David Akin

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