VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – According to an expert, higher meat prices and potentially fewer options on grocery store shelves can be expected in the coming months as meat processors grapple with coronavirus outbreaks.
Two major Alberta plants are responsible for more than two-thirds of Canada’s beef. Both are dealing with outbreaks of COVID-19, and at some point the bottleneck in production at the factories will result in less meat coming to market.
“I don’t think there will be a collapse in the Canadian food system as a result, but I think this is really problematic for low-income Canadians, perhaps people who have recently lost their jobs or have seen their income decline … Us could see food insecurity continue to grow in this country, ”explains Professor Evan Fraser, Director of the Arrel Food Institute at the University of Guelph.
“In the long term, we will likely see a decline in meat stocks in Canada and North America, which will primarily affect the pork industry, I think.”
Based on the food price index released earlier this year by Dalhousie University, Fraser expects price increases in the range of four to six percent for beef and pork.
The most immediate impact, Fraser explains, is likely to be farm income as more farmers struggle to reach markets. That fight can even force them into difficult situations, Fraser adds, including making decisions to euthanize animals.
“Because they don’t keep or store animals, or can’t keep animals for long,” he says.
He urges us not to panic and warns that being depleted and quickly running out of inventory can lead to shortages.
“Overall, our system is remarkably robust. Indeed, given the scale of the challenges COVID-19 has posed over the past month and a half, it has adapted quite well, ”he explains.
Scrambling to adjust
While meat products have success, Fraser expects more people to try plant-based alternatives.
“I would envision or speculate that one of the legacies of COVID will be a significant investment and increased interest in alternatives to livestock, which in turn would allow for some level of resilience and diversity in the system,” he says.
Fraser also expects the supply chain to adapt to changes in meat products, but also believes that this will result in some creative solutions.
This could include finding new vendors, suppliers, or even trade agreements, he says over the next few months.
In the longer term, yes, he notes that producers are likely to produce less meat at higher prices, but that’s also due to social distancing measures.
“Meat packers work very closely together on a cutting line,” explains Fraser. “If you spread them two meters apart and put plexiglass between them, it would really slow a plant down.”
In a few years time, we’ll likely see more interest in smaller plants.