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Farm groups mark “Food Freedom Day”

If you’re an average Canadian in terms of disposable income, as of Thursday you’ve earned enough so far in 2009 to pay your food bill for the year.

That’s the estimate of economists at the Canadian Federation of Agriculture (CFA) in declaring Thursday (Feb. 12) as Food Freedom Day in Canada for 2009.

That’s well back from Feb. 3, which the CFA had declared to be Food Freedom Day in 2008.

The occasion comes slightly later in 2009, CFA said, due to the recent rise in the price of food. That disrupts the trend of recent years, where the disposable income of Canadians rose “significantly” faster than the cost of food, the farmers’ group said.

“Thanks to farmers, Canadians still get the best deal in the
western world for their food dollar,” said Bette Jean Crews, president of the
Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA), in a separate release Thursday.

The OFA noted in its release that member countries within the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), on average, spend 8.3 per cent more of their disposable income on food than do Canadians.

Australians spend 12.7 per cent more, the Japanese spend 35.7 per cent more and Mexicans spend over 125 per cent more of their disposable income on food than Canadians.

Consumer complaints

Both the CFA and OFA pointed out that while prices for retail goods and ag commodities rose in 2008, little of the consumer’s food dollar trickled down to the farm gate.

In 2005, the CFA said in a separate statement, a corn grower would get just seven cents for the corn in a box of Kellogg’s Corn Flakes, while a wheat grower would get just 11 cents for the wheat used in a loaf of bread.

“Even with a doubling in the price of commodities, those costs would then become 14 and 22 cents, certainly not justifying the significant retail mark-ups which many consumers complained about,” the CFA said on its website.

Because the 2008 statistics for Canadians’ disposable income and their expenditures on food, alcohol and smokes aren’t yet available from Statistics Canada at this time of year, the CFA calculates Food Freedom Day based on its own “internal estimate.”

CFA estimated food, beverage and tobacco costs for 2008 to be $113.06 billion and Canadians’ total personal disposable income for 2008 at $950.96 billion. That puts the percentage of disposable income spent on food at 11.89 per cent, which in a 365-day year put Food Freedom Day 43.4 days into 2009.

CFA also had to rely on its own estimates of 2007 food spending and disposable income when calculating Feb. 3 as Food Freedom Day in 2008. Statistics Canada’s actual numbers for 2007 were $107.18 billion in food, liquor and tobacco bills and $898.39 billion of disposable income — which, if known at the time, would have also put Food Freedom Day on Feb. 12, or 43.5 days into the year.

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