Alex Binkley on food price worries

The Binkley Report

Alex Binkley is a foremost political and economic analyst, whose website is Readers will be aware that his columns in True North Perspective have foreseen political and economic developments in Canada. In this edition ...

Food price worries and government inattention

By Alex Binkley
True North Perspective

Consumers are worried about the rise in food prices and the lack of attention the issue receives from governments, says a public opinion poll released by the Angus Reid Institute.

Statistics Canada says that food prices increased by 3.9% between this past February and Image: Cover of Humanity's Saving Grace, a novel by Alex Binkley. Click to purchase at Amazon.caFebruary 2015, double the overall inflation rate. Although the poll provides insight into how consumers have responded to the increase by modifying their purchases to save money, its section on their assessment of the political response to the situation missed an important step.

The poll found 53% of those surveyed rated rising food prices as one of the most pressing public issues and 36% said it was a concern while only 11% said it was one of their least important worries.

“Most Canadians don’t believe rising food costs have captured the attention of politically elected leaders,” the poll said. Even those who don’t rate food prices a priority “say the issue deserves more care.”

What the poll didn’t do was take the next step and ask for suggestions on what governments should be doing about the rising prices. Food prices certainly weren’t an issue during last year’s election campaign. Prime Minister Trudeau has told his agriculture and health ministers to develop food-related policies but said nothing about rising food prices.. The poll does point out the impact of the lower value of the loonie and climate change such as the prolonged drought in California and food demands elsewhere. But we’re wiser on what consumers think the cause is.

Interestingly, there were no complaints about farmers and food processors even though farm incomes in Canada were strong last year. Farmers could at least point to Agriculture Canada’s forecast that farm incomes will be well down this year from 2015’s record $15 billion.

The poll said it’s not just low income families that are feeling the pinch. “People in middle-class and higher income brackets also say putting food on the table has become more difficult in the last year, as do those who have kids at home.”

The poll says Canadians report cutting back on meat and switching to cheaper brands at the grocery store to deal with rising costs. It wonders whether the move to less healthy eating options due to higher prices will have future implications for health care costs. Look at the attention the recent Senate report on obesity is receiving.

The poll says respondents report eating at restaurants less, spending less on entertaining, delaying major household purchases and cutting back on alcohol consumption.

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