Canada’s potato industry joins a growing number of food sectors that finds itself in crisis, a crisis sparked by the near elimination of demand for french fries.
Global News has learned that the Canadian Potato Council, which represents 1,000 potato growers across the country, sent a letter Thursday to Agriculture and Agri-food Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau requesting “urgent required interventions” that the council says are vital to protect the potato industry and food security in Canada.
The problem for potato growers is too many potatoes grown to end up being served as french fries in restaurants that are now closed or only offering take-out.
And while Canada’s food supply chain now has to deal with too many potatoes, it may soon struggle with not enough beef, pork and, possibly, seafood.
Bibeau, along with many other experts, has cautioned that Canada is not about to run out of food, though she and others have acknowledged that these supply chain problems could result in higher prices and potential shortages of some specific products.
Meat-packing plants in Alberta and Ontario responsible for a substantial portion of Canada’s beef are shut or running reduced lines as they grapple with COVID-19 outbreaks.
A pork processing plant in Breslau, Ont., that accounts for about one-third of the federally inspected pork produced in Ontario will shut Monday for a week — also due to COVID-19.
Pandemic expected to disrupt pork, beef production
And now, those who harvest fish and shellfish are worried they will not be able to maintain production because of COVID-19 safety requirements as well as the drop in demand from the food service industry.
“Harvesters are certainly interested in fishing but they’ve got to do it safely and right now they’re really unsure it can be profitable at all now,” said Keith Sullivan, president of the Fish, Food and Allied Workers, a union that represents 15,000 fishery workers in Newfoundland and Labrador. Sullivan spoke to Global News from his home in Bay Bulls, N.L.
NDP MP Gord Johns said the federal government should institute a “Canada Purchase Program” to essentially become the buyer of last resort for fish, seafood and other agricultural products where demand has fallen off.
“[The government] should buy Canadian product, get healthy proteins to Canadians and institutions, to local markets and food banks. It’s absolutely critical,” Johns said in an interview from Port Alberni, B.C.
The federal government has already instituted several measures to support Canada’s agri-food sector, including providing a cash injection of $5-billion to Farm Credit Canada which the government says has allowed thousands of producers to defer their loans.
“Our government is working with provinces and territories, to support our producers and ensure Canadians continue to have access to high quality food on their grocery store shelves and kitchen tables,” Bibeau said in a statement provided to Global News Sunday. “We understand that agriculture groups have specific needs and asks right now and we are actively exploring additional ways to support them.”
A “Canada Purchase Program” or equivalent is among the measures the Canada Potato Council is pushing. The council is also asking for specific help for potato seed growers as well as some regulatory and other changes to existing agricultural support programs.
Canada’s potato farmers grew about 4.8 million tonnes of potatoes in 2019 worth a combined $1.3 billion. Most of that crop — about two-thirds — ends up at processing plants that turn those spuds into french fries, hash browns and other frozen potato markets. Processors, like McCain’s or Cavendish Farms, send the vast bulk of their product to restaurants.
But with restaurants either shut or limited to take-out, the demand for frozen potato products has all but disappeared.
With their freezers full of french fries, processors are not buying any more fresh potatoes.
As a result, Canada’s potato producers have about one-quarter of last year’s crop — about 1.4 million tonnes worth as much as $320-million — still in storage on the farm that no one wants to buy.
Pat Owen, who grows potatoes near Carman, Man., is one of those farmers. He has 19 million pounds in storage that should have been turned into french fries.
“It’s huge,” Owen said in an interview Sunday. “To our operation, it’ll be over half our gross income, close to $2 million that is not realized.”
Meanwhile, potato farmers would normally be planting the 2020 crop about now, in early spring. But with uncertain demand conditions, many farmers are likely to radically revise their planting plans.
“We’re going to plant probably 15 per cent less already. That’s what the processors have told us to do,” Owen said. “But there’s no guarantee that if the economy doesn’t turn around, we’ll be able to sell next year’s crop.”
© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.
Trudeau says he discussed border with Biden, but no deal
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Sunday he has spoken with U.S. President Joe Biden about how to lift pandemic-related border restrictions between the two countries but made clear no breakthrough has been achieved.
U.S. and Canadian business leaders have voiced increasing concern about the ban on non-essential travel in light of COVID-19 that was first imposed in March 2020 and renewed on a monthly basis since then. The border measures do not affect trade flows.
The border restrictions have choked off tourism between the two countries. Canadian businesses, especially airlines and those that depend on tourism, have been lobbying the Liberal government to relax the restrictions.
Canada last week took a cautious first step, saying it was prepared to relax quarantine protocols for fully vaccinated citizens returning home starting in early July.
Trudeau, speaking after a Group of Seven summit in Britain, said he had talked to Biden “about coordinating measures at our borders as both our countries move ahead with mass vaccination.” Canada is resisting calls for the border measures to be relaxed, citing the need for more people to be vaccinated.
The United States is ahead of Canada in terms of vaccination totals.
“We will continue to work closely together on moving forward in the right way but each of us always will put at the forefront the interests and the safety of our own citizens,” Trudeau told a televised news conference when asked the Biden conversation.
“Many countries, like Canada, continue to say that now is not the time to travel,” Trudeau added, though he said it is important to get back to normalcy as quickly as possible.
(Reporting by David Ljunggren in Ottawa; Editing by Will Dunham)
Man with 39 wive dies in India
A 76-year-old man who had 39 wives and 94 children and was said to be the head of the world’s largest family has died in north east India, the chief minister of his home state said.
With a total of 167 members, the family is the world’s largest, according to local media, although this depends on whether you count the grandchildren, of whom Ziona has 33.
Ziona lived with his family in a vast, four-story pink structure with around 100 rooms in Baktawng, a remote village in Mizoram that became a tourist attraction as a result, according to Zoramthanga.
The sect, named “Chana”, was founded by Ziona’s father in 1942 and has a membership of hundreds of families. Ziona married his first wife when he was 17, and claimed he once married ten wives in a single year.
They shared a dormitory near his private bedroom, and locals said he liked to have seven or eight of them by his side at all times.
Despite his family’s huge size, Ziona told Reuters in a 2011 interview he wanted to grow it even further.
“I am ready to expand my family and willing to go to any extent to marry,” he said.
“I have so many people to care for and look after, and I consider myself a lucky man.”
(Reporting by Alasdair Pal and Adnan Abidi in New Delhi; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)
Huawei CFO seeks publication ban on HSBC documents in U.S. extradition case
Huawei Chief Financial Officer Meng Wanzhou on Monday will seek to bar publication of documents her legal team received from HSBC, a request opposed by Canadian prosecutors in her U.S. extradition case who say it violates the principles of open court.
Meng’s legal team will present arguments in support of the ban in the British Columbia Supreme Court.
Meng, 49, was arrested at Vancouver International Airport in December 2018 on a warrant from the United States, where she faces charges of bank fraud for allegedly misleading HSBC about Huawei Technologies Co Ltd’s business dealings in Iran and potentially causing the bank to break U.S. sanctions on business in Iran.
She has been under house arrest in Vancouver for more than two years and fighting her extradition to the United States. Meng has said she is innocent.
Lawyers for Huawei and HSBC in Hong Kong agreed to a release of the documents in April to Meng’s legal team on the condition that they “use reasonable effort” to keep confidential information concealed from the public, according to submissions filed by the defense on Friday.
Prosecutors representing the Canadian government argued against the ban, saying in submissions filed the same day that “to be consistent with the open court principle, a ban must be tailored” and details should be selectively redacted from the public, rather than the whole documents.
A consortium of media outlets, including Reuters News, also opposes the ban.
The open court principle requires that court proceedings be open and accessible to the public and to the media.
It is unclear what documents Huawei obtained from HSBC, but defense lawyers argue they are relevant to Meng’s case.
Meng’s hearing was initially set to wrap up in May but Associate Chief Justice Heather Holmes granted an extension to allow the defense to read through the new documents.
Hearings in the extradition case are scheduled to finish in late August.
(Reporting by Moira Warburton in Vancouver; Editing by Howard Goller)
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