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COVID-19: Will Canada See A Meat Shortage?

Canada will likely not see a meat shortage similar to the one experts say is coming in the US due to packing plant closures, according to the government and private industry observers. Let’s take a moment to look at the overall North American Meat supply chain picture…

Red Meat Array - © caloriesecrets.netAll the cuts you want for the grill this summer: There will likely be no
serious shortages in Canada, but prices may temporarily rise…

The Meat supply chains in Canada and the US are complex and sometimes confounding. And there are key differences that make Canada a better place for Meat lovers right now than the land to the south.

For instance… Although Wendy’s in the US has removed Beef-based items from its menus temporarily – because it can’t get Burger Patties – there’s no such problem here in the Great White North. That’s odd when you first hear it, because both countries have suffered multiple packing plant shutdowns following COVID-129 outbreaks among their staffs.

And here in Canada, we’re told that two plants in Alberta and another in Ontario together produce 85 percent of the country’s Beef. Yet the government and industry observers say, though we may see higher prices for Beef in the coming weeks, there will still be plenty go around. How can this be? The main reason is that, in normal times, Canada is a net exporter of Beef, sending more abroad than we consume here at home. While exports are suffering, Canadians are not.

One major Beef buyer in Canada is not happy, though. McDonald’s says it may have to import Beef from wherever it can get it if the packing plant closures continue too long. It’s a classic case of, ‘the bigger they come, the harder they fall’.

How much will prices rise?

According to a recent Business Insider article, Meat prices in the US were up 8.5 percent by the end of April and will continue to rise by as much as 20 percent over the weeks to come.

But here in Canada the story should be markedly different. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau assured Canadians, in his April 21 daily COVID-19 update, that, “The priority will be on domestic supply, so we are not at this point anticipating shortages of beef, but prices might go up. We will of course be monitoring that very, very carefully.”

Livestock and Meat Market Analyst Kevin Grier told Yahoo! Canada Finance this week that, “It is not a time for consumers to worry, but they are going to see some blank spots on some shelves. There will be probably be a continuation of price increases, but not anything like [a] 20 or 30 per cent jump. It will just be fewer products, and you might not have the selection you want for a while.”

My take

In the greater scheme of things, Canada appears to be getting off lightly compared to some other countries around the world.

The contrast between our situation and the US picture is particularly . Over the past 2 or 3 weeks, the US has consistently accounted for 1 of every 4 reported COVID-19 deaths in the world and 1 of every three confirmed cases. Here in Canada, COVID-19 cases account for 0.2 percent of the total population, while in the US, they account for 0.4 percent. Likewise, COVID-19 deaths are currently at 0.1 percent of the population while in the US they are running at twice that rate.

A Toronto Globe and Mail opinion column a month ago asserted that, “Canada’s handling of the pandemic so far is putting the U.S. to shame.” It appears that our early and rapid response to the pandemic crisis has resulted in a much better coronavirus picture than that of our cousins in the US. No one here suggested that the virus would magically go away, or that it was not worse than the flu.

So it’s no surprise that our response to the temporary closure of packing plants that normally process 85 percent of our Beef products has impacted Canadians so lightly, compared to the shortages and price hikes they’re seeing south of the border.

Nevertheless, we have a long way to go before we’re ‘out of the woods’, as the politicians and medicos like to say. And Canadians will only preserve our relatively envious position in the COVID-19 sweepstakes if we continue to hunker down, practice social distancing and wait out the crisis. And that means not re-opening the economy too soon, like they are in the US. All the experts are predicting a spike in COVID-19 cases and deaths as people in many states take advantage of eased restrictions…

~ Maggie J.

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