Canada’s domestic food and agriculture supply chains have been put to the test and (the hoarding of toilet paper, flour, and meat notwithstanding) held up exceptionally well under the sudden panic-buying ahead of the COVID-19 self-isolation directive.
Al Mussell, research lead with Agri-Food Economic Systems, says that these supply chains have proven to have a great deal of integrity to them, and they’ve served us well so far, but now is not the time to be complacent. The worst of the virus is still to come, and with it will come greater threats to the essential steps in our food and grocery supply chains.
The existing integrity creates the space we need to make some adjustments to an unprecedented situation, Mussell says. “We’re starting from a good place to make the kind of changes that we need to secure that supply chain in a dramatic environment.”
Meat value chains are, in some ways both in a great place — as so much of our protein production is local — and a very poor one, as a plant shutdown or wide-spread employee absenteeism would have a profound impact on the ability of the livestock supply chain to keep meat counters stocked.
To date, emergency planning in the meat sector has primarily been focused on livestock disease or a border closure related to a livestock disease. “We haven’t really considered the risk of people not being able to work,” Mussell says. From abattoirs to CFIA inspectors, to transport truck drivers, and into the processing plants, each link in this chain needs some management now to ensure it’s ready for the challenges ahead.
He says that one of the things plants (and other businesses) could be doing now is expanding the training of existing staff, ensuring some redundancy in skill sets between employees so that even if some workers become ill, the plant can continue to operate.
There is also the case for keeping export channels well managed. We need to assume that those involved in the entire logistics chain could end up ill — and that’s on the domestic and export level. We’re already seeing interrupted container traffic, Mussell says, and we need to prepare for making sure we have full shelves of meat, dairy, eggs, and pantry staples.
Listen on to hear Al Mussell and Shaun Haney discuss current supply chain challenges: