OTTAWA — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has announced the federal government is providing $252 million in new federal assistance for Canadian farmers and others in the agri-food sector whose livelihoods have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, to help redistribute food and better protect workers in processing plants.
As part of this the government will be spending:
- $77 million to help food processors purchase protective equipment for workers, adapt to health protocols like physical distancing and expand domestic processing capacity to increase the amount of food made in Canada;
- $125 million to help cattle and hog producers who are raising more animals than can currently be processed because of COVID-19 and as a result are seeing their costs increase because they are keeping these animals longer; and
- $50 million on a food surplus purchasing program that will see the government buy large quantities of surplus products and redistribute them to areas where food insecurity is an issue, to avoid throwing out food and to allow the producers to still be compensated.
Among the challenges for those working to feed Canadians are changing demands due to many restaurants being closed, having the staff to work the current planting season, and the closures of some processing plants leading to supply issues.
Thanking those who are working to ensure grocery shelves are stocked, the prime minister said that Canadians are spending more time in the kitchen, whether “trying to make sourdough” or cooking for an elderly neighbour.
“These days especially, cooking and baking is about more than nourishment. It’s also about relieving stress, finding a community, supporting each other, and creating memories. You help make that possible,” Trudeau said.
Already, the federal government has provided $50 million to help cover the costs of bringing in temporary workers and housing them in isolation for 14 days before beginning to farm, and some in the sector would qualify for certain other business assistance programs, but Agriculture Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau has continued to say more would be done.
“We know that farmers still have concerns about what this pandemic means for their industry long-term….And I can assure you that we are working with farmers, stakeholders, and provinces and territories to find lasting solutions,” Trudeau said on Tuesday. “This is an initial investment and if we need to add more, we will.”
Last week, the Canadian Federation of Agriculture called on the federal government to provide the sector $2.6 billion through an emergency fund to maintain food security. That amount was based on estimates of the immediate impacts of the pandemic across the country, such as the shutdown of much of the food service sector and supply chain disruptions, the organization said in a statement.
“We understand that the entire country is under duress. Agriculture is a unique player in our economy. Not only does agriculture create value for our economy, act as stewards of our environment and employ over two million Canadians, agriculture also provides us the unique benefit of food – not only for Canada but for the world at large,” said Mary Robinson, president of the Canadian Federation of Agriculture, in the statement.
Robinson said that farmers and others in the agri-food sector have watched other sectors receive federal aid and are “appalled as they watch an essential service and critical infrastructure such as food production and processing being largely ignored.”
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