May 5, 2020 / 3:48 PM / a month ago

Canada okays a tenth of the aid food industry sought to weather coronavirus slump

OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canada will invest C$252 million ($179.5 million) to help farmers and food processors weather the coronavirus outbreak, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Tuesday, but industry groups say the funding falls far short of what is needed.

FILE PHOTO: Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau pauses during a news conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada May 1, 2020. REUTERS/Blair Gable

The Canadian Federation of Agriculture (CFA), one of Canada’s biggest farm groups, asked last week for 10 times the amount that was approved, an initial C$2.6 billion in emergency funding, to cover industry losses and costs.

While some of Canada’s 10 provinces are beginning to reopen after lockdowns to fight the coronavirus, demand for many food products has dropped since mid-March, with most restaurants and bars closed.

“We will continue to work... to ensure that our food capacity in this country and these people who work so incredibly hard every single day to feed Canadians get the support that they need,” Trudeau told reporters, adding that the government could provide more money if needed.

Industry groups immediately called for more.

“If your house is burning down and I offered you a bucket of water to put it out, you’re probably going to have an issue,” said CFA President Mary Robinson in an interview with CTV News.

About 40% of small- and medium-sized businesses in the farm and food sector have seen a significant demand drop, Canadian Chamber of Commerce President Perrin Beatty said.

Tuesday’s announcement, he said, was a “first step,” but falls “short of what the sector needs and will lead to delays in the ability of agriculture firms to address the impacts of COVID-19.”

Canada’s total coronavirus death toll rose to 3,915 on Tuesday, up about 4% from 3,766 on Monday, according to official data.

Several food processing plants, primarily in the meat industry, have had to temporarily shut down after workers became infected with COVID-19.

Trudeau said beef and pork producers, who have been forced to keep livestock on farms longer because of processing shutdowns, will receive C$125 million in disaster relief funding.

Food processors will get C$77 million to help buy personal protective equipment for workers, adapt to health protocols or increase processing capacity, while the Canadian Dairy Commission will see its credit increased to C$200 million.

A first-ever food surplus purchase program valued at C$50 million will buy large quantities of products like potatoes and mushrooms that will be redistributed to food banks.

($1 = 1.4030 Canadian dollars)

Reporting by Kelsey Johnson; additional reporting by David Ljunggren; editing by Steve Scherer, Bernadette Baum and David Gregorio

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