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This was the worst year in decades for families struggling with food prices, report says

This year was one of the worst ever for Canadian families struggling to put food on their tables.

The new Food Price Report from Canadian universities shows that faced with rising food prices, people tightened their belts and spent less. Food bank usage also hit record highs across the country with 2 million visits, nearly an 80% increase from before the pandemic.

On the Island, food banks have reported an increase in clients, including many people with jobs who can’t keep up with rising costs.

“The year 2023 posed significant financial challenges for Canadian families, one of the toughest in recent memory,” Dr. Sylvain Charlebois, project lead, professor, and Director of the Agri-Food Analytics Lab at Dalhousie University.

The report predicts food costs for an average family of four will rise next year by around $700, less than this year’s thousand-dollar increase.

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The report looks at what’s driving price increases, and highlights inflation, global conflicts disrupting supply chains, and ongoing ripple effects from the pandemic as causes.

It also takes aim at the federal carbon tax, particularly its increasing effects on farmers. The tax is currently at $75 per tonne but by 2030 it will be $170. The 2023 report shows by 2030, a farmer with 5,000 acres will be paying $150,000 purely in carbon taxes. Most farm equipment runs on diesel fuel and natural gas, with no alternatives available, and unavoidable carbon taxes may cause prices to increase across the entire supply chain. However, the report points out, not much in-depth research has been done on the effects of charging the tax to farmers and food producers, or the transportation sector.

“It would be misleading to assert that carbon pricing has a direct and straightforward impact on retail food prices, and it would be equally misleading to claim otherwise. Multiple factors come into play, including consumer behaviour and supply chain dynamics,” it says.

Next year’s prices are expected to increase on average in BC by around 6%, the same as this year. Increases are mainly driven by baked goods, meat, and vegetables. Dairy price increases were lower than expected, and will be less than 2% next year.

The report looked at federal legislation being crafted to create a code of conduct for Canadian grocery companies. It found other countries which have introduced codes have had food prices go down as a result.

On the bright side, the report also predicts there will be a mild reduction in prices next year for some essential food items.

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