COVID-19 Pandemic – 6 Key Priorities for Food & Beverage Manufacturers

April 2, 2020

Under extraordinary circumstances, Canadian food companies continue to work tirelessly in supplying the food system for Canadian consumers. In order, to make certain the supply chain remains robust and able to deliver, Food and Beverage Canada – Aliments et boissons Canada has communicated the following top priorities to the federal government.

Food Workers

There are over 6,000 food and beverage manufacturers across Canada. The people who work at these businesses are the industry’s number one asset – food cannot be produced for Canadians without them. Despite COVID-19, almost 300,000 food workers continue to go to work – even as federal and provincial leaders encourage Canadians to “stay at home”.

Since February, food companies have been working with their employees to emphasize the vital nature of their work and to develop plans to manage absenteeism as the virus progresses. They cannot do it alone. Like most Canadians, food workers are concerned about COVID-19. As the virus progresses, these concerns will grow. The federal government must support the people who manufacture food as essential workers and vital to the food supply chain. Strong social messaging from government leaders is important to motivate and provide confidence to employees.

Worker Safety

Since the start of this outbreak, food plants have been modifying practices in response to public health advice related to social distancing, and measures to protect workers and prevent spread of the virus. In late March, two federal government agencies – Public Health Agency of Canada and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency – also issued guidance documents related to COVID-

  1. Subsequently, the Minister of Labour announced that federal, provincial and territorial ministers are developing occupational health and safety guidelines related to COVID-19.

It is critical that food companies receive consistent and timely guidance related to COVID-19. Food and Beverage Canada – Aliments et boissons Canada has requested that the federal government ensure any and all guidelines, related to COVID-19 and

workplace measures, are coordinated across the country and across federal departments. Expectations must be communicated consistently, clearly and concisely to industry. Cases of COVID-19 have already been confirmed in food plants and as this continues, clear guidance will be critical to keeping food plants running.

Maintaining Food Supply Infrastructure

Every Canadian food and beverage manufacturer is supported by an enormous and vital community of businesses. The safe and productive operation of one food processing plant depends on the contributions of hundreds or even thousands of suppliers and service providers, all of whom are critical in bringing food and beverage products to the tables of Canadians.

Canada’s capacity to continue to safeguard food security during the COVID-19 pandemic means that all the links in the food system must be considered and protected. The loss of one or more of the businesses that support a food plant could mean that facility is no longer able to produce food. It is critical that as the federal government develops and modifies lists of “essential workers” or “critical sectors”, all of the links in Canada’s food system remain open, functioning and supportive as this pandemic continues.

Critical Supplies

Critical supplies for food and beverage manufacturing operations include sanitizers and disinfectants, as well as personal protective equipment such as masks. These supplies are required for regular safe operations, and are all the more vital during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Canadian food businesses continue to report that their stocks of critical supplies are dwindling. As efforts are made to ensure such supplies for health workers are a top priority, it is essential that food workers be prioritized right behind them.

Regulatory Policy

Food and beverage processors are focused on ensuring the continuity of the food supply with all resources being used to maintain operations with the current and evolving crisis. It is crucial, that the federal government facilitate an environment where businesses can succeed.

Essential to this is delaying deadlines for any regulatory or policy consultations that were set before the pandemic. Specifically, the federal government should delay any new policy or regulatory consultations and suspend implementation of any regulatory changes already approved, for a minimum of six months. The federal government must communicate this clearly to food manufactures so that businesses can continue to focus on the job at hand – producing food for Canadians under increasingly challenging conditions.

Prioritizing the Food System

There are many other issues facing the food system.

  • The need to recruit new workers to address absenteeism.
  • Shortages from the Temporary Foreign Worker Program.
  • Ensuring Canada-US trade continues.
  • Addressing transportation hurdles.
  • Planning for potential food shortages.
  • Planning for potential animal welfare scenarios.
  • Recognizing the additional costs associated with operating in a COVID-19 environment.

It is essential that industry and government prioritize the continued functioning of Canada’s food system. The federal government must recognize all of the challenges industry is facing and work with industry to ensure a plan is implemented for continued operations as this pandemic evolved. We must ensure we have a sustainable food and beverage manufacturing sector when this is done.