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Coronavirus: Feds to divert 12M kilograms of farmers’ surplus food to groups in need

Supporting farmers during the COVID-19 pandemic
Farmer and Oxbow restaurant co-owner Will Bergmann talks about the importance of supporting farmers and local restaurants during the COVID-19 pandemic.

More than 12 million eggs will be redistributed via an emergency federal program designed to help farmers faced with too much food and nowhere to sell it due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Read more: Quebec farms facing lost profits and rotting harvests due to migrant worker shortage

Agriculture Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau announced Thursday that the government has signed eight agreements worth nearly $50 million to help align the needs of food banks and other community groups with what farmers and producers can supply.

“This is a win-win,” she said in a statement.

“Not only are we helping producers who cannot sell their goods to restaurants, but we are also aiding Canadians that have had to seek help from food banks.”

The organizations receiving the money include Food Banks Canada, Second Harvest and the Quebec group La Tablee des Chefs.

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How the pandemic impacted food banks
How the pandemic impacted food banks

Altogether, approximately 12 million kilograms of everything from fish to fowl will be purchased from food producers and then redistributed under the $50-million food surplus program announced by the Liberals earlier this year.

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The near shutdown of the hospitality industry has meant a sharp decline in the number of places to sell perishable foods.

That has led to litres of milk being dumped down drains, potatoes going bad in storage and farmers facing higher costs to hold on to animals they had nowhere to sell if slaughtered.

At the same time, food banks have reported sharp increases in the number of people seeking assistance, having lost their jobs due to the pandemic, and there were calls for the federal government to find a way to match up the two.

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Lori Nikkel, the chief executive officer at Second Harvest, said pre-pandemic, an estimated 58 per cent of all the food produced for Canadians was going to waste.

That number was definitely pushed higher by COVID-19, she said, and she applauded the federal government’s leadership in spooling up the program.

Second Harvest uses an online platform, FoodRescue.ca, to link up organizations that need food for their programs with farmers and producers who have surplus goods.

Durham food banks struggle to keep up with increased demand
Durham food banks struggle to keep up with increased demand

They received $11 million from the government to expand that program to include paying producers directly for their food, and ensure the groups on the receiving end have what they need to process, distribute and store it.

Nikkel said the money will go fast, and she hopes the federal government will consider a new round of funding at a later date as the need will not go away.

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“The commodities are going to change,” she said.

“Who we are helping now may not be the people we are helping tomorrow.”

Read more: Food banks’ demand surges amid COVID-19. Now they worry about long-term pressures

Ten per cent of the product being purchased by the surplus program is being sent to northern communities.

Among the projects focused on those is one with Fisher River Cree Nation in Manitoba, which received $10.8 million to catch millions of kilograms of walleye and redistribute the fish to more than 75 Indigenous communities.