Amid reports of empty shelves in grocery stores across Ontario, there is a growing concern that the province could soon face an increase in food shortages this winter.
Staffing shortages resulting from a surge in Omicron cases and the recent winter storm that hit Southern Ontario earlier this week have compounded concerns about the availability of food supplies.
It’s a concern shared by Sylvain Charlebois, director of the Agrifood Analytics Lab at Dalhousie University. According to him, access to food will be a challenge this winter.
“I am concerned about our nation’s food security,” Charlebois said. “Consumers should adjust expectations when they walk into a grocery store. They should expect more empty shelves (and) delays.”
The issue of food supplies garnered further attention following the federal government’s decision to implement a vaccine mandate for truckers entering Canada.
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Charlebois said the vaccine mandate is one of the four factors affecting the supply chain, aside from the Omicron variant, snowstorms and food recalls.
“We import well over $25 billion worth of food from the US every year,” said Charlebois. “Seventy per cent of it goes through the border with truckers. With the vaccine mandate, we just took eight thousand to 16,000 truckers from the system.”
Michelle Wasylyshen, the national spokeswoman for the Retail Council of Canada, said Canadians should have no concern about food availability. When asked if grocery stores face a shortage in food supplies, Wasylyshen said individual items could temporarily be affected by supply chain challenges.
“There will be times when consumers will have to look for alternatives when the item they want isn’t available,” said Wasylyshen. “But there is food on the shelves.”
Videos circulating on social media show a different scene, with empty shelves and a depleting food supply. One video on TikTok shows an empty aisle at Walmart that would have typically been full of frozen goods. Another video shows empty shelves and only a limited number of frozen foods at a Metro in Ottawa.
The video was taken by Sandra Manahan, who said she isn’t worried about the reports of food shortages.
“I would say the basics are still available. Everyone’s still able to get bread, eggs, and milk,” said Manahan. “It seems more like specialty items that are missing off the shelves.”
Manahan said she believes the reports of food shortages would cause people to panic buy. Still, she said she’s never seen her store de ella have that many empty shelves.
“Three to four days after that video, there are still empty shelves. I guess it’s just something that we have to wait and see,” said Manahan.
As for the potential impact of the vaccine mandate for truckers, Wasylyshen said it is too early to tell. Still, she said the council is concerned that the mandate could result in another spike in freight costs and disruptions to the supply chain.
The office of the minister of transport said in an email that the volume of cross-border truck traffic “has not varied significantly” since the mandate took effect.
“We have been working extensively with the trucking industry and we know that the vast majority of their workforce is vaccinated,” the statement said. “The biggest threat to supply chains is COVID — and our best tool is vaccines.”