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Consumers Have Every Right to Be Angry about the Rising Food Inflation

George Guidoni   

It is a troubling sign of the times when economists and politicians cheer a muted slowdown in overall rate of rising inflation for all sorts of everyday consumer products, rather than an outright drop in the inflation rate, but its seems that any silver lining will do these days.

The rise in global energy prices, particularly oil and other fuel, often makes a convenient scapegoat in explaining the prolonged sticker shock at grocery stores charging unprecedented high process for fresh fruits and vegetables, among other essential foodstuffs.

But with global oil prices still nowhere near their all-time highs, there must be many other factors at play behind the soaring food inflation that is giving Canadian consumers real fits about their ability to afford essential products that form the basis of sound daily nutrition, fresh fruits and vegetables notably among them.

Even with the overall inflation rate slowing to 4.3 per cent last month, according to Statistics Canada, the cost of fresh fruit was still 7.1 per cent higher in March on year-over-year basis, while fresh vegetables rose by 10.8 per cent.

For some everyday staples like apples (up 15.8 per cent), tomatoes (10.9 per cent) and lettuce (eight per cent), the cumulative effects of consecutive monthly rises ever since the outset of COVID-19 are transforming these products into outright luxury items, for heaven’s sake!

No one ever said that getting back to post-COVID normal was going to be a walk in the park, but pricing consumers out of reach across such a large population segment is not a happy recipe for rebuilding consumer confidence.

Coming at a time of record profits for leading Canadian grocery retailers, the accusations of greed-driven price-gouging are a valid reflection of the consumers’ exasperation with their monthly food bills, and who can blame them?

As our elected policy makers are often painfully reminded at election time, hell hath no fury as an angry electorate, and a hungry electorate is as angry as it gets.

In this context, it may be a good idea for the feds to review a timely new report from Global Coalition of Fresh Produce (GCFP), the umbrella organization for leading national fresh-produce industry groups such as the CPMA (Canadian Produce Marketing Association).

Titled Global Value Chains for Fresh Produce: An Urgent call for Policy Measures, the report predictably decries the alarming drift towards unaffordability as a sure a precursor to serious healthcare-system repercussions.

“First and foremost, governments and international bodies across the globe should recognize fruits and vegetables as essential goods,” says GCFP’s chief public policy officer, Robert Guenther. “By establishing that fruits and vegetables are fundamental to the health of populations and an essential element in the shift towards more sustainable food systems, other measures can be unlocked to ensure their consistent supply.”

According to the report, available from CPMA, those measures must include:

  • Helping fresh-produce operators shoulder the burden of increased energy bills;
  • Promoting the creation of safe and well-paying jobs in the fresh-produce industry and in transportation;
  • Ensuring undisrupted and priority access for fresh fruit and vegetables to all transportation networks;
  • Creating priority lanes for imported fresh produce to ensure quick offloading at all points of arrival;
  • Improve operational practices to ensure the seamless movement of fresh produce;
  • Working towards the harmonization and mutual recognition of sanitary, phytosanitary and other market entry requirements;
  • Promoting the consumption of fruits and vegetables by exempting fresh produce from value-added taxation; and
  • Offering more fruits and vegetables through school feeding programs.

While it’s just a sampling of things regulators could do to improve the status quo, it’s a good starting point for moving in the right direction.

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