Canadian food bill holds steady for ‘Food Freedom Day’

Canadian consumers get to mark "Food Freedom Day" on the same day in 2012 as in the previous three years, having earned enough on average to pay the total bill for groceries for the year.

The occasion, which in Canada commemorates what Canadian ad agency AdFarm dubbed "one of the most affordable food systems of all the industrialized countries," falls again this year on Feb. 12 — in this case, Sunday.

The date for Food Freedom Day each year, as designated by the Canadian Federation of Agriculture, comes from a calculation comparing Canadians’ disposable income and the amount they spent on food during the previous year, AdFarm said in a release.

"Food Freedom Day serves to further demonstrate the value that Canadian farmers deliver to Canadians not only through quality food, but by supporting one in eight jobs, which in turn translates into vital economic contributions for our rural communities," the Calgary agency said.

The CFA, however, also interprets the data to show that an average consumer has earned enough income to pay the farmer’s share of those total food expenditures in only about three weeks.

"This is a common story for many players along the value chain — the share they get does not adequately compensate their costs," CFA president Ron Bonnett said Monday.

"The CFA strongly believes all stakeholders would benefit from a National Food Strategy," he said. "A plan to optimize our food system would strengthen agricultural businesses, create long-term value and make significant contributions to society."

"Relatively slight"

Based on the CFA’s data, Canadians in 2011 spent 11.8 per cent of their disposable income on food, compared to 13.5 and 14.2 per cent respectively for France and Japan, for example.

The Canadian figure is based on an estimated disposable income per capita of $30,255 in 2011, during which time expenditures on food, beverages and tobacco were about $3,583, the CFA said.

The occasion has held steady at Feb. 12 since 2009, the CFA said, because "any growth in food expenditure, which has been relatively slight when compared to areas like recreation, rent and fuel, or transportation and communications, has not come close to matching growth in disposable income."

For Food Freedom Day to shift by one day, there would have to be a 2.5 per cent change either way in disposable income spent on food, the CFA said.

"As a comparison, Food Freedom Day in Iceland is in late February, while in Mexico it doesn’t come until early March," Ontario Federation of Agriculture executive member Keith Currie said in a separate statement Wednesday.

"This data highlights just how important Canadians’ food decisions are to our nation’s economic future," AdFarm Canada president Ben Graham said in a separate release. "Our nation’s farmers are producing food that is safe, secure, of high quality and relatively inexpensive."

Purchases of Canadian-grown food, he added, "directly lead to a stronger, home-grown agriculture sector and dramatically benefit the country as a whole."

AdFarm on Thursday afternoon held an event in Calgary to mark Food Freedom Day and collect food for local food banks. Calgary’s Kingsland Farmers’ Market has agreed to continue that food drive and accept food donations through the weekend up until 3 p.m. Sunday.

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