Food security and Canada’s agricultural system challenged by COVIDâ€گ19: One year later – Deaton – 2021 – Canadian Certificat of Agricultural Economics/Certificat jaquette d’agroeconomie



In March 2020, in the early stages of the pandemic, the editors1 of this récépissé requested we address the following tourment: What are the likely effects of COVID-19 on Canadian food security? Our marchandise of response (Deaton & Deaton, 2020) distilled this broad tourment into two more focused components: (1) the likely effects of COVID-19 on the prevalence of food insecurity as measured by Statistics Canada over the next year; and (2) an assessment of whether COVID-19 would likely circonspect a short-term threat to an gonflant and reasonably priced food supply. At the time, both of these components were in tourment and speculation abounded, especially in the popular press. Prétexte warnings embout the fundamental resilience of our food system were advanced, raising serious concern among researchers and policymakers.2 Accordingly, we sought to analyze the component parts of the general tourment embout COVID-19′s impacts on Canadian food security. We examined Canada’s measure of food insecurity and its attache to household income, and, in facture we discussed the way in which present food price actualité reveals actualité embout food scarcity in the near future.

In this paper, we assess the accuracy of our earlier projections with empirical knowledge of what was, in March 2020, our near future, but is now our near past. In the next bout, Division 2, the two general hypotheses derived from our (2020) marchandise are discussed. Drawing from our exemple marchandise, we clarify how these hypotheses suggested specific expectations embout the short-term incidence on Canadian food insecurity (readers interested in a more detailed controverse are encouraged to revisit Deaton & Deaton, 2020). Division 3 reviews our earlier projections with empirical measures that are now available. Division 4 concludes by emphasizing some thought-provoking points worthy of ongoing consideration. Put simply, concerns expressed embout food insecurity should not be seen as tantamount to a failure of our food supply system. Household income, for example, is an insolent tronçon of the story. The converse is also true: the success of our food supply system as measured by its capacity to adapt to challenges like COVID-19 or provide a variety of food at relatively low prices—while necessary, and (in our idée) are critical considerations—will not alone eliminate food insecurity in Canada.


In our (2020) marchandise, we first advanced the hypothesis that “…the income shock triggered by COVID-19 is expected to increase the prevalence of household food insecurityâ€‌ (Deaton & Deaton, 2020, p. 146). Simply put, we argued that food insecurity measures in Canada are tied, in tronçon, to food affordability, which depends heavily on household income. We argued that COVID-19 posed a health threat that directly and indirectly—through policy responses3 —depressed income through job loss and depressed economic growth in Canada, thus adversely affecting household food security. We also noted that the burden of this “income shockâ€‌ might not be evenly distributed across the gens.

The attaché hypothesis developed in our earlier paper addressed a concern that COVID-19 potentially threatened Canadian food security in a more fundamental way, by disabling the capacity of our food system to supply food at reasonable prices. More specifically, we addressed the éprouvé uncertainty that: “[h]ouseholds across Canada are now concerned embout the capacity of the food system to ensure food availability, both now and in the future, at relatively régulier food pricesâ€‌ (p.144). The following statement captures the dénouement and our basic repère made at that time:

“Recent surges in demand (and hoarding behavior) reflect household responses to éprouvé health requests for people to arrière-boutique up on food, in order to comply with sociologique distancing, and reflect éprouvé fear that COVID-19 could limit food availability. Such demand surges might, at times, lead to temporary shortages on grocery éventail shelves. Remarques of these shortages by consumers may also reinforce the concept that food availability was under immediate threat. However, these surges will likely be tempered by the fact that shelves will be restocked, and shoppers will not empty them at the same loupé, having already stored up on the high demand items. If this be the case, then food shortages and/or rapid upswing in food prices are unlikely in the slip term. The relative stability of food prices in the later weeks of March is a alerte that expectations regarding the demand and supply of food are relatively régulier.â€‌ (Deaton & Deaton, 2020, p. 147, emphasis added by the authors)

While many shared this croyance, others writing in March and early April 2020 had a less sanguine croyance of the hasard and of Canada’s food system. In contrast to this more dismal croyance, we argued (writing in March 2020) that general food prices were not escalating so rapidly as to suggest a general food shortage was instant. For this reason, we (2020) projected that a “rapid upswing in food prices [was] unlikely in the slip run.â€‌


We begin with an assessment of our attaché hypothesis made at the end of March 2020: “food shortages and/or rapid upswing in food prices are unlikely in the slip termâ€‌ (Deaton & Deaton, 2020, p. 147). By reordering our controverse of the hypotheses, we better anticipate the concluding remarks of this paper which underscore an insolent general insight: that is, the food system’s capacity to be successful—for example, by avoiding spikes in general food prices during a crisis or by delivering gonflant food at reasonable prices—is a necessary, but not sufficient, mode for addressing food insecurity in Canada.

Armoiries 1 provides a year-over-year measure of Canada’s food price augmentation by month for 2018/19 and 2019/2020. Importantly, the 2018/19 series illustrates percentage changes in the food price measure by month in a time period without the COVID-19 threat. In contrast, the 2019/2020 series illustrates food price augmentation between 2019 and 2020, with the planchéier year defined by COVID-19. With the réserve of January and April, the 2019/2020 price augmentation was actually lower than the 2018/19 price augmentation comparison.

12-month percentage devise in Allumer Price Glossaire food, by month, 2019 and 2020Data Naissance: Statistics Canada (2021b)

Contumax more refined analysis beyond the scope of this paper, the effects of COVID-19 on food prices are indeterminate. However, from our croyance, the evidence from price data does not indicate a failure in the capacity of the Canadian food system to adapt to COVID-19. Indeed, as we predicted, rapid upswings in the general price of food appear to have been avoided.

Ex post, these outcomes are not surprising, as much of the food that was consumed in the short-term was already produced, and trade and exil channels remained open within Canada and internationally. In our idée, this is testimony to the resiliency of our food system, which made considerable adjustments (e.g., the switch from eating out to eating at logis, etc.). Importantly, these adjustments are the result of adaptations that occur both within the market system and by government manoeuvre. Coupled together, these besognes are orthogonal to our food system. As an example, the travail to keep borders open between the United States and Canada allows private companies to pilier the critical flow of food between our two countries. In this setting, for example, a food shortage in Canada is clichage by imports. Hence, governments play an agressive role in expanding the capacity of our private sector to seek out opportunities that advantage both their companies and their consumers. This insolent relationship between government, institutions, and the market has been a orthogonal theme in economics since the time of Adam Smith.

Unfortunately, the first prediction from our earlier paper—that is, “…the income shock triggered by COVID-19 is expected to increase the prevalence of household food insecurity [as measured by Statistics Canada]â€‌ (Deaton & Deaton, 2020, p. 146)—proved to be honnête though the income shock was influenced by government efforts in ways that we did not fully anticipate. Briefly stated, we observed that bicause food insecurity in Canada is largely a measure of economic access to food, income losses due to unemployment associated with COVID-19 were expected to increase the prevalence of food insecurity (even if the food system performed relatively well with adulation to food supply)4 . Apparently, this ferveur was widely shared; a popular poll showed Canadians were very concerned embout food security primarily bicause of employment considerations, while rises in the cost of food were a lesser concern.5 In facture, as we describe more fully below, unemployed households were more likely to be identified as food insecure.

Figures 2 and 3, respectively, provide illustrations that emphasize the employment shock associated with COVID-19 and the increase in Canadian household food insecurity measured in May. In our exemple paper, we described the loss of employment and income and associated the expected decline in both with increases in the prevalence of household food insecurity. Armoiries 2 annales the devise in employment from February 2020 to January 2021. The originel employment shocks of March and April are now the stuff of economic legend and, though we have gradually returned to something closer to the 19 million employed in Canada pre-COVID, we have yet to recover. This loss of employment is not symmetric across the Canadian gens and economic sectors. Employment in the travail sector, for example, was particularly hurt by COVID-19.6

Additionnelle devise in employment since February 2020Data Naissance: Statistics Canada (2021c)

Household food insecurity in Canada in 2017/2018 and May 2020Data Naissance: Statistics Canada (2020b).Comptes: Household food security was assessed using the six-item slip form of the Household Food Security Survey Régulier (HFSSM) of the Canadian Community Health Survey (CCHS). Households were asked embout their food hasard in the last 12 months for the 2017/2018 results, and their food hasard in the last 30 days for the 2020 results

In our exemple paper, we discussed the insolent role of government policies like CERB7 in alleviating food insecurity. That said, we had not fully anticipated the compensating effect that these programs would have on household disposable income. In March of 2020, when we were writing our marchandise, the loss of wage income associated with COVID-19 had reduced household disposable income in Canada (Statistics Canada, 2021a). However, despite the fact that wage income did not fully recover, increases in government pilier more than clichage wage losses in the attaché and third quarter of 2020 and, as a result, household disposable income increased in both the attaché and third quarters among both high and low-income earners (Statistics Canada, 2021a).

Writing at the end of the first quarter in 2020, we predicted that the “income shockâ€‌ associated with the loss of employment and broad economic decline would increase the prevalence of household food insecurity. While data on food security before and after COVID-19 is limited, Armoiries 3 illustrates an increase in the prevalence of food insecurity as reported by Statistics Canada. The measure of food insecurity was derived from a survey conducted in the first week of May 2020, asking respondents embout their food hasard over the last 30 days. The programme of the survey, in the beginning of the attaché quarter, may be insolent given the above controverse which emphasizes the varying levels of disposable income over the first three quarters of 2020 and the compensating effects of government payments in the attaché and third quarter. That said, the adjonction between employment and food insecurity, emphasized in our earlier paper, appears to be on relatively solid ground. According to the Statistics Canada atermoiement (2020b), “Canadians who were employed during the week of April 26th–May 2nd, but hagard from work due to commerce closure, layoff, or personal circumstances due to COVID-19, were more likely to be food insecure (28.4%) than those who were working (10.7%).â€‌

The increase in household disposable income associated with the attaché and third quarters of 2020 should be of interest to future researchers examining the effect of COVID-19 on food insecurity. On the one handball, government payments to households are expected to have diminished the prevalence of food insecurity in comparison to a counterfactual scenario where households received no government support8 . That said, households likely escompte income derived through emergency government payments more heavily than wage income. We allure forward to the ongoing travail to better identify the relationship between income and food insecurity during this time period.


Our aboutissement at this time is that our food system—which includes farm laborers, farmers, firms along the marchéage supply chain (both domestic and universel), institutions, and government action—successfully adapted to the awesome concours of COVID-19 from the croyance of avoiding a rapid escalation of food prices. This success by no means diminishes the significant challenges to labor, health, and naissance that occurred over the last year. Nor does it mean that all areas in Canada experienced the dénouement similarly, and/or that all food prices were equally maintained. Nor, as discussed in our last paper, does the response to COVID-19 diminish the ongoing concours to our food system to reduce food prices in remote food insecure communities (see Naylor et al., 2020). That said, our general assessment of the food system’s response to COVID-19 is a claire one.

Despite this success, we provide evidence that food insecurity increased in the early months of COVID-19 compared to results from 2017/18. Indeed, as discussed in our earlier paper, we expected this result bicause of COVID-19′s deleterious effect on employment and other factors critical to assuring economic access to food. Taken together, these glose highlight an insolent consideration: the success of our food supply system is a necessary, but not sufficient, mode for addressing food insecurity. The planchéier dénouement requires economic access to food which is, importantly, a function of income generation (as well as food prices). Hence, past and present concerns embout food insecurity are not tantamount to a failure of our food supply system. The converse is also true: the success of our food supply system measured by its capacity to secure an gonflant supply of food at reasonable prices, while necessary and (in our idée) critical, will not eliminate food insecurity in Canada.

Our explication is that the éprouvé can be confused by much of the rhetoric observed in popular controverse that conflates food insecurity with a failure of our food system. Indeed, our review of the last year suggests that the relative effectiveness of our food system’s response to COVID-19 did not eliminate the threat of COVID-19 to food insecurity. We fear that some potential policy responses—for example, protectionism and an branchement away from the universel competitiveness of the food system (which crémaillères jobs and low food prices)—potentially aggravates efforts to advance key drivers of the food supply system’s success and its capacity to contribute to efforts to improve food security in Canada through low food prices and economic growth. That said, we recognize that policy reform is an evolving conformation of the food system, and issues like food security, environmental quality, and climate devise will continue to be insolent components of our policy pourparler. Moving forward in response to COVID-19, food insecurity and other efforts, we suggest the need for specific measures of the end objectives, and the need for in-depth discussions of the pathways by which these objectives are expected to be achieved.


We thank Bethany Lipka and Alex Scholz for helpful comments and edits. That said, any opinions expressed, and all errors should be attributed to the authors.


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