What a year for food news. From avian flu to the ever-rising cost of groceries, countless food-related stories made the mainstream news throughout 2022.
“What’s interesting is the general public, but also politicians and policy makers are talking about food now in a way they weren’t doing before the pandemic,” says Janet Music, research program coordinator at Dalhousie University’s Agri-Food Analytics Lab (AAL). “Lettuce recalls and the baby formula shortage would have made the news anyway, but I don’t think people would be talking about the price of fertilizer if you weren’t in agriculture, or how the war in Ukraine will impact food prices in Canada. I don’t think people would have made that connection. But it’s now to a point where you can’t ignore it. It’s impacting so many people and they are paying attention.”
As the year comes to a close, the researchers at AAL compiled a list and analysis of 2022’s top 10 news stories.
#10: Avian Flu
More than 200 farms were impacted by avian flu and more than four million birds were culled because of several outbreaks this year. Avian flu, likely one of the most underreported food stories of the year, made poultry, meat and eggs more expensive at the grocery store.
Both Sobeys and Maple Leaf Foods fell victim to a cyber attack this year, and AAL expects more pirating in the future. While the companies haven’t said if they paid a ransom, in Empire’s second quarter earnings call Dec. 15, the company said it expects to take a $25 million hit after insurance, including certain business losses such as shrink and additional labour, as well as the cost of professional and legal expenses.
#8: Baby formula shortage
Starting in early May, parents across the country struggled to find baby formula products, thanks to supply chain issues and recalls. AAL says few people knew that Canada does not produce its own baby formula. “Again, another event showing how vulnerable we can quickly become as a country when one single American plant shuts down. What a mess.”
#7: FDA’s approval of lab-grown chicken
Cultured meat is almost here. The FDA just approved cultured chicken in the United States. Once the USDA approves, the product will be commercialized in the U.S. When thinking about the environment, animal welfare, epizootics and pandemics, this technology can become a game-changer in the future, according to AAL. And Canada could be next.
#6: Lettuce recall
California is drying up, and it is increasingly becoming Canada’s problem, says AAL. In the fall, leafy greens suddenly became very expensive, if consumers were lucky enough to find some. “The lettuce shortage in Canada this year is yet another example of how climate change is forcing international food commerce to redefine itself,” says AAL.
#5: Fertilizer mayhem
The federal government wants a 30% reduction in emissions by 2030. While that doesn’t necessarily include fertilizer, producers claim that reducing nitrous oxide emissions cannot be achieved without reducing fertilizer use. “For many crops, our farmers’ ability to grow anything will be severely compromised, unless they use more land,” says AAL. “This is yet another example of how urban politics is driving agri-food policies these days.”
#4: Ottawa’s new front-of-package labelling rule
In June, Health Canada proposed front-of-package nutrition symbols on foods high in saturated fat, sugars and sodium. This sparked the “Don’t label my beef” campaign since Ottawa intended to label single-ingredient products like ground meat, potentially becoming the first country in the world to do so. Ottawa did change its mind at the last minute.
Several blockades across the country halted trades between Canada and the U.S. The Ambassador Bridge, the busiest international land crossing between the U.S. and Canada, was closed Feb. 7 to Feb. 13. Between $8 billion and $12 billion in agri-food crosses the Ambassador Bridge in both directions each year. “Not a great moment for our country,” says AAL.
#2: The food inflation blaming game
Inflation was top of mind for everyone this year. AAL says Canadians have grown to be critical of the grocery industry, and the industry felt the pressure from ‘greedflation’ campaigns this year. “Even though it is important for policymakers and regulators to understand what’s going on, there’s no evidence of profiteering in food retail. But doubts persist.”
When Ukraine was invaded by Russia, many Canadians didn’t realize how that region of the world was so critical to the global agri-food sector. “A few months after the invasion, many commodities reached record price levels,” says AAL. “By June, processors had to pay more for inputs, which eventually affected the entire globe’s food inflation scenario. Fertilizer access was also impacted. Let’s hope 2023 brings a peaceful end to the horrors the Ukrainian people have suffered.”
And, AAL concludes, “We should hope that the year 2023 will bring more peace and health to the world, including Canadians.”