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.
Ontario, Quebec account for more than 90% of national COVID-19 cases: federal data – CBC.ca
While new federal figures show the emergence of new cases of COVID-19 is slowing in some parts of Canada, the pandemic continues — and some regions and age groups are being hit particularly hard.
During a briefing in Ottawa this morning, Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam and her colleague Dr. Howard Njoo walked Canadians through their updated modelling on the number of COVID-19-related illnesses and deaths Canada could see over the next few weeks.
The new figures show that Canada could see between 97,990 and 107,454 cases and between 7,700 and 9,400 deaths by June 15.
The report highlights how different provinces are experiencing the pandemic.
Ontario and Quebec have accounted for more than 90 per cent of national COVID-19 cases in the past 14 days, according to Tam and Njoo.
There has been no community transmission in Prince Edward Island, the Northwest Territories and the Yukon, and no cases have been reported to date in Nunavut.
The numbers show COVID-19 is still disproportionately hitting Canadians in long-term care and seniors’ homes; they represent 18 per cent of all cases and 82 per cent of Canada’s 7,495 deaths.
It’s the third time Canada’s leading public health officials have given an update on the expected impact the novel coronavirus will have on the Canadian population. It comes as some provinces have reported a downturn in cases and are beginning to reopen their economies, including some schools, stores and parks.
The doctors said the evidence shows health measures have been effective in controlling the epidemic. They also warned that lifting those measures without strengthening other public health measures likely would cause the epidemic to rebound.
‘Not out of the woods:’ Trudeau
“The data shows that we are continuing to make progress in the fight against this virus. In many communities, the number of new cases is low and we can trace where there came from. That’s an encouraging sign that the virus is slowing and in some places even stopping,” Trudeau told reporters outside his home at Rideau Cottage Thursday morning.
“But I want to be very clear, we’re not out of the woods. The pandemic is still threatening the health and safety of Canadians.”
As of Thursday morning, Canada has 93,085 confirmed and presumptive novel coronavirus cases, with 51,048 of the cases considered recovered or resolved, according to data compiled by The Canadian Press.
Ontario reported 356 additional cases of COVID-19 on Thursday as the province’s network of labs processed a record number of tests for the novel coronavirus.
The 1.2 per cent jump in cases brings the total in Ontario since the outbreak began in late January to 29,403.
The federal projection figures don’t always pan into reality.
At the end of April, the government estimated that Canada was on a path to between 53,196 and 66,835 cases of COVID-19, and between 3,277 and 3,883 deaths, by May 5.
According to CBC News figures, as of May 5 there were more than 62,000 confirmed and presumptive coronavirus cases and 4,166 people had died.
Cross-Canada lab network tracking COVID-19 mutations – CBC.ca
A network of laboratories across Canada is studying mutations in the genetic footprint of COVID-19 to track patterns of transmission across the country and internationally.
Led by the Public Health Agency of Canada’s National Microbiology Laboratory, along with Genome Canada, the research is working to identify as many genetic sequences as possible.
The goal is to understand which sequences are circulating in Canada and compare those to others around the world.
“Monitoring interprovincial or international spread of the virus will become increasingly important as public health measures are slowly lifted and cross-border travel resumes,” said Natalie Mohamed, a spokesperson for the Public Health Agency of Canada, in a written response to questions.
“Genetic variants may also impact the sensitivity and performance of the current COVID-19 diagnostic methods. By comparing viral genome sequences, we will be able to monitor the spread of these established lineages in Canada.”
The agency said most genetic mutations in the virus are “silent,” meaning they do not modify the virus’s function or make it more dangerous. However, these genetic differences can be used to identify different variations that form a lineage, with a common ancestor and descendents.
Identifying source of new cases
Understanding the variations circulating in Canada will help to identify the source of new cases as travel restrictions are lifted.
It can also help identify links between cases when investigating outbreaks, which is particularly useful when contact tracing is not available or inconclusive.
The agency said it is too early to tell whether Canada has distinct virus lineages.
It said monitoring of viral and genetic variants will be key to ensuring the effectiveness of any vaccines and treatments, and can help make sure testing for the virus is accurate.
“We need to continuously monitor their effectiveness, otherwise we risk missing positive cases,” Mohamed said in reference to testing methods.
The research is being carried out through the Canadian COVID-19 Genomics Network (CanCOGen), a consortium of public health and academic institutions, hospitals and large Canadian sequencing centres.
The project has been funded for two years with $40 million from the federal government, announced in April.
“We are already submitting our virus sequence data to the public domain databases and will make study findings available to the public as they become available,” said Mohamed.
Individual virus sequences submitted to open source databases
Although the findings will be released at a later date, the data itself is being shared to open-source databases, like the NextStrain website, as it is generated.
A spokesperson from the Roy Romanow Lab in Saskatchewan said mutations shown on NextStrain, such as one identified in that province, are “extremely small.”
“The majority of these changes happen randomly and do not affect the virus in any way,” it said.
“It’s important to note that currently none of the mutations have been shown to increase infectivity.”
It said coronaviruses mutate very slowly compared to viruses like influenza or HIV.
The National Microbiology Lab has centres in Winnipeg, Man., Guelph, Ont., St. Hyacinthe, Que. and Lethbridge, Alta.
These Canadian species are found nowhere else on Earth – CBC.ca
What species are more Canadian than moose or beavers? We now have an answer. A new report has catalogued 308 species, sub-species and varieties of plants and animals found in Canada — and nowhere else on the planet.
They include mammals such as the eastern wolf, Vancouver Island marmot, wood bison and Peary caribou; birds such as the Pacific Steller’s jay; and fish such as the Banff longnose dace, Atlantic whitefish and Vancouver lamprey.
But 80 per cent of them are plants and insects — ones you probably haven’t heard of, like the Maritime ringlet butterfly and the Yukon goldenweed.
“Really, I mean, these are the most Canadian species because they are uniquely Canadian — they only live here,” said Dan Kraus, senior conservation biologist with the Nature Conservancy of Canada and a lead author of the report on endemic species released Thursday.
Most have small ranges and populations, making them vulnerable to extinction. Only 10 per cent are considered “globally secure.”
Nevertheless only 20 per cent have been assessed by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada to determine just how threatened they are.
But they’re species that only Canadians can protect, Kraus said.
“It’s sometimes easy to kind of think that there’s nothing we can do about the global extinction crisis, as Canadians,” he added. “But these are species where their fate is directly in our hands. And if only Canadians will decide if they go extinct or if they survive in the future.”
The Nature Conservancy of Canada is a non-profit organization whose goal is to protect natural areas that sustain plants and wildlife and, in looking for areas to protect, it prioritizes endemic species. It decided to compile a list of such species after realizing that no such comprehensive list existed, Kraus said.
It partnered with the NatureServe Canada, part of an international network that collects and distributes conservation data. By comparing Canadian and U.S. data, Kraus and NatureServe Canada’s Amie Enns came up with a list of species that exist in Canada and not the U.S. They then checked to make sure none of them were found in places like other parts of the Arctic, and consulted with dozens experts across the country.
In the process, Kraus was surprised to discover how many endemic species live in northern parts of Canada and how many we know very little about. In fact, new endemic species were discovered over the course of the two-year study, including a beetle in the Yukon and a new species of quillwort (a type of aquatic or semi-aquiatic plant) in the freshwater estuary of the St. Lawrence.
Both were found in “hotspots” with lots of endemic species.
“It may be that some of those hotspots are much larger than what we’ve mapped or there may be additional endemic species in Canada,” said Kraus, adding that excites him as a Canadian biologist. “There’s all these new discoveries that are still waiting to happen in our own country.”
Most hotspots are in unique ecosystems, such as the Athabasca sand dunes of Alberta or the Great Northern and Avalon peninsulas of Newfoundland, along with isolated islands such as Vancouver Island, Sable Island or Haida Gwaii, and the few areas of Canada that weren’t covered in ice during the last ice age. Many are already known as hotspots for biodiversity in general, and some are protected.
B.C., Quebec, Alberta and Yukon had the highest numbers of endemic plants and animals.
Kraus hopes the list of endemic species will help prioritize species and habitats for conservation and raise awareness about what Canadians can do about the global extinction crisis.
“But these are species where it’s our piece of that problem and we can we alone are the ones that can solve it,” he said. But that can be good thing, he suggests: “There’s no reason why we need to lose any of these species in the future.”
Fangliang He is a professor at the University of Alberta who holds a Canada Research Chair in Biodiversity and Landscape Modelling and wasn’t involved in the study.
He said he wasn’t aware of any other projects like this cataloguing endemic species in Canada. He noted that there aren’t very many, compared to the overall number of species, as many tend to cross the border into the U.S., either to the south or in Alaska. For example, the new report found 64 endemic plant species (not including mosses and liverworts) or 109 species, subspecies and varieties, while He estimates there are about 4,000 plant species in Canada.
But he said studies like this are useful.
“It’s fundamental information — very important, critical for conservation,” he said, adding that especially when resources are limited, “Endemic [plants and animals] in general should really be the priority in terms of conservation.”
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