Falling loonie raising costs on produce

Prices of imported fruit and vegetables growing

Published on January 12, 2016
Paul Chiasson//CP
A customer buys lettuce at the Jean Talon Market, Monday in Montreal. The prices of produce from the United States coming into Canada are swelling across the country including in Newfoundland and Labrador due to the poor value of the loonie.

Some snowbirds might rethink their trip to Florida this year due to the lagging loonie, which was coming in a little above the US70-cent mark on Tuesday, but that won’t stop produce from such states coming here. The staggering price tag might have people choosing not to pull the peel off that orange, though.

Nearly all fruit and vegetables eaten by Canadians are imported and that’s even more true in this province than in some others. A descending loonie makes for some pretty ripe prices on produce in a place already paying more than many other parts of the country.

Kristie Jameson is the executive director of Food First NL — previously known as the Food Security Network. It’s a group looking to promote and ensure food security for people in the province with a particular focus on access to adequate and healthy food.

Jameson says the issue of the lagging loonie is one more reason to start producing food in the province.

“It’s another situation that shows us being so incredibly dependent on outside food sources and puts us in quite a vulnerable position when it comes to access to affordable, healthy food, but also the quality of the food we get into the winter.”

Food First NL recently published an online paper on local food security.

Fruits and vegetables have risen in price between 9.1 and 10.1 per cent, according to an annual report by the Food Institute at the University of Guelph. This year the study predicts such foods will increase above what would be expected from inflation — some growing out of reach for some people by 4.5 per cent.

With the province producing only about 10 per cent of its fresh vegetables, there’s more reason to be concerned than the fact that we only have several days’ worth of fresh food here at a time and a delayed ferry can result in bare shelves. If the shelves are full, but too expensive, the food is still just as untouchable. And the people who feel the impact of high-priced fruit are the middle and lower classes.

“It’s students. It’s senior citizens. It’s the working poor. It’s new immigrants,” Diana Bronson, executive director of Food Secure Canada, said in a recent Canadian Press article.

There are risks even for foods that are produced in-province and it’s not just produce that feels the pinch.

“It also has this ripple effect,” Jameson says.

The feed that locally raised animals eat often comes from outside the province, so the food that our food eats can be susceptible to price hikes. That would not only affect locally raised meat, but also milk.

“There’s also all of these other elements or players within this broad complex dynamic,” Jameson says.

Besides a floundering loonie — blamed mainly on the low price of oil — there are labour issues and environmental impacts taking place far away from this province that still have a finger on local food prices. Drought in the western U.S. is still affecting the price of beef in local grocery stores, for instance.

Jameson says a lot of planning has to go into building a better local food security network. Infrastructure and support are needed. Even then, people in this province may still be somewhat at the mercy of outside circumstances.

“We will, I think, always be dependent to some level.”


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