The average Canadian family will pay $487 more for food next year, and the authors of the country’s annual food price report are pointing to climate change as a major cause of the increase.
“The forecast, driven in large part by climate change and continuing trade issues, outpaces the average food inflation rate over the past decade of about 2.0 to 2.5% a year,” the Globe and Mail reports. “Meat, fresh fruit, and vegetables are expected to jump the most in price. Meat, especially, is to be between 4.0 and 6% more expensive than 2019.”
“The report calls the impact of changing weather patterns on our food systems through droughts, forest fires, heavy precipitation, reduced freshwater access, and rising sea levels ‘the elephant in the room’ for 2020,” The Canadian Press reports, in a dispatch republished by CBC. “That link between climate change and food prices comes with a forecast that the average Canadian family will spend $12,667 on food at grocery stores and restaurants in 2020”—a 2-4% jump over 2019, and the second-largest increase ever.
“We’re deliberately pointing out that climate change is causing the droughts, is causing the bad snowstorms that [are] impacting prices,” said co-author Simon Somogyi, an agri-food business specialist at the University of Guelph.
“Canadian farmers will face challenges in the future dealing with unpredictable crop yields, heat wave livestock threats, pasture availability, and pest and disease outbreaks,” the report states.
Somogyi warned that climate change will continue to drive up prices without a shift in the country’s food system. “If we maintain our current Canadian food distribution structure, I can see that happening each year—4%, 10%, 15%,” he said. He’s calling for a national food policy that “focuses on producing more high-cost items, like many vegetables, in Canada through vertical and indoor farming,” CP writes. “That would reduce time to market, costs, and risks of bacterial outbreaks.”
The CP coverage traces a range of factors that influence food prices, but the report concluded that climate change was responsible for “the bulk” of last year’s sudden increase in vegetable costs.
“A hotter climate is one factor behind an increase in bacterial outbreaks such as E. coli, Somogyi said, as hotter temperatures and unpredictable heat waves increase bacterial growth,” the news agency explains. “In recent years, multiple E. coli outbreaks prompted grocers to pull romaine lettuce off their shelves and restaurants to stop serving the leafy green, which tend to drive up prices for alternatives, like spinach.”
Produce prices “also trend up because Canada imports vast amounts of its food, as the colder weather limits what can be grown. Imported goods can fluctuate in price due to trade issues creating slowdowns at borders, or weather events impacting delivery logistics.”
While the specific costs attributable to climate change can be hard to quantify, report co-author Sylvain Charlebois of Dalhousie University said it’s easier to capture the impact by focusing on price volatility. “Everybody agrees it costs more, but we don’t really know how much,” he told the Globe. But “today, every single month there’s at least one product that goes up 10 or 20%” because of erratic weather patterns. “So the price of climate change, really, is unpredictability.”
Charlebois said awareness of the climate crisis is also shifting consumers’ food preferences. “People, when they think about food, they see the planet on their dinner plates much more so than ever before,” and with younger generations leading a shift to more plant-based diets, fast food chains and manufacturers are racing to catch up.
“The rise of plant-based alternatives does give optimism for meat prices by creating a new class of substitutes, but global demand for meat outside Canada will increase domestic prices in 2020,” the report states.