Canadian agrifood infrastructure needs shock proofing

Ottawa—The country's food supply chain has been designated as critical infrastructure but little has been done by governments to shockproof it from external pressures, says Kathleen Sullivan, CEO of Food and Beverage Canada.A lack of policy coordination among governments, the global nature of agriculture and food supply chains and the dominance of private companies in the business means there are few measures are in place to insulate Canada's food system from economic shocks, Sullivan told the Commons agriculture committee.The result is that “maintaining Canada's food infrastructure and supply chains falls largely to industry itself, a challenge that is complicated by the size and scope of industry,” she said. The recommendations of the National Supply Chain report should be implemented by the federal government to ensure a consistent and coordinated approach to support supply chain resilience for Canada's food system.“This could include investing in ongoing monitoring and intelligence gathering related to global and Canadian supply chains that is shared with industry, and investing in measures to buffer the food system from external shocks and to support food supply chain resilience, starting with a critical assessment of key risk factors and vulnerabilities along the food supply chain.”While food manufacturers should be looking toward recovery and growth, they are instead contemplating consolidation and contraction because of labour shortages and supply challenges, she said.More automation, digitization and use of robotics would the industry although “we're not going to see the equivalent of the self-driving car. There are segments in our industry that are very hands-on. Often we're looking at small improvements in how you might apply a technology to a piece of your production line.”Dealing with labour and supply issues has stunted the forward-thinking and forward-planning of most companies is very stunted right now, because folks are dealing with the challenges,” Sullivan said. “We really need to step in and find ways to help the companies in order to facilitate their ability to adopt these technologies.”It would also help if action was taken on the many reports written for governments. The Supply Chain Report “repeats recommendations made by the agrifood economic strategy table back in 2018. Let's get moving on it. This only works if we all work together. I think we have a real opportunity.”The Covid pandemic has made people very good at trouble shooting, working together and being creative. “We have to draw on those skills we've developed throughout the pandemic, not let them die, and start to think bigger and better about how to improve our supply chains.”It is also important to recognize the worker shortages is related to local infrastructure issues such as affordable housing, public transportation or day care. The federal, provincial and local governments need to work on this, she said.