Why we shouldn’t demonize glyphosate

By Sylvain Charlebois

Dalhousie University

and Stuart Smyth

University of Saskatchewan

Canadians had until July 20 to comment on the federal government’s proposal to increase the amount of glyphosate herbicide residue allowed on legumes. Now, due to some deserved public pressure, Health Canada extended the deadline to Sept. 3.

The debate on glyphosate in Canada and around the world is populist, chaotic, political and simply unsettling. Many groups are regrettably weaponizing research to make a point, either to support the use of the well-known chemical, also known as Roundup, or to declare it cancer-causing and poisonous.

Some are treating science like a buffet, carefully selecting research to accommodate a certain narrative. It’s messy and a disservice to the public.

At the core, it’s a battle between organic and modern family farming, or even rural against urban views. Consumers have every right to be concerned about the safety of the food they buy, but most of the information they’re exposed to is incredibly skewed by politics from many sides.

The inconvenient truth about glyphosate is that it’s not poison – unless used irresponsibly, of course. Most farmers adhere to responsible and sustainable practices based on precision agriculture, where overuse is both costly and wasteful.

Health Canada didn’t help the debate with its less-than-mediocre risk communication strategy. Knowing it was dealing with one of the most controversial issues in agriculture, it has shown some hesitancy in disclosing all the information it had, forcing media to dig deeper. The federal department should be as transparent as possible, especially when dealing with the most widely used, and important, chemical in Canadian agriculture.

Misrepresentation of glyphosate’s toxicity misleads the public, the scientific community and regulators. With glyphosate, detection doesn’t equal toxicity.

Health Canada’s intent is to harmonize standards across North America. For the sake of more transparency, the federal agency should be clear about why the evaluation is being done and who’s asking for it, or whether it’s part of Canada’s commitment to complying with international trade and regulation agreements.

It should also explain what the risks are. By known standards, a person would need to eat at least 32 bowls of Cheerios every day for more than a year to even approach the limit suggested by Health Canada. Or a person would need to eat over 600 kg of lentils over a few months.

These thresholds are at least 100 times less than levels that could impact someone’s health. Many studies suggesting glyphosate to be harmful often set unreasonable standards based on questionable data.

Many environmentalists and organic farming groups are behind a lot of the reports condemning the use of glyphosate. For years, these groups went to war against genetically modified organisms (GMOs), only to realize most consumers weren’t buying the ‘frankenfoods’ fear campaign.

These groups are after the chemicals supporting genetic engineering in agriculture but expecting modern agriculture to be chemical-free is simply unrealistic. Over 140 chemical compounds are approved for use in the production of organic crops in Canada, and Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) data reveals that chemical residues are present on nearly half of organic produce.

We’ve come a long way since the dust bowl era on the Prairies. We’ve learned how tillage can be damaging and how soil science can serve agriculture more meaningfully, with the support of resourceful biotechnologies. Tillage has long been used to control weeds in crop/food production. The use of glyphosate has removed 99 per cent of tillage area in Saskatchewan, reducing soil erosion and increasing moisture conservation.

Some consensus is building on the safety of glyphosate. Seventeen regulatory agencies and thousands of studies have evaluated glyphosate’s human health and environmental impacts, including one major report from the European Union, released in June.

Overlooked by most major media outlets in Canada, the European report has deemed glyphosate not cancer-causing. That’s right, not carcinogenic.

The sample design and methodologies of past studies suggesting glyphosate may cause cancer were heavily criticized after they were released.

We should certainly have an ongoing debate about the use of chemicals in agriculture. And working to fully understand inherent risks and verified benefits to our health and the environment is critical.

But some organizations and academics with clear conflicts of interest continue to disregard the prevalence of evidence supporting current farming practices. And that’s a disservice to honest public discourse on the issue.Dr. Sylvain Charlebois is senior director of the agri-food analytics lab and a professor in food distribution and policy at Dalhousie University. Dr. Stuart Smyth is Agri-Food Innovation and Sustainability Enhancement Chair at the University of Saskatchewan.

Natural gas offers the best way to meet emissions targets

By Gwyn Morgan

Troy Media

At their meeting in June, G7 leaders agreed to a greenhouse gas emissions target of “net zero” by 2050. That would require phasing out fossil fuels that currently supply 84 per cent of global energy. But how?

The common reply is “putting a price on carbon,” i.e., carbon taxes. But unless there’s a viable alternative, taxing something people can’t do without only makes them poorer.

Policy-makers seem to believe that ‘green power,’ meaning wind and solar, is the answer. But despite hundreds of billions of dollars having been spent on them, wind and solar account for only 3.3 per cent of world energy supply.

That may come as a surprise, since the heavily-subsidized wind and solar industry claims a much higher capacity number, defined as the electricity that would be generated when the sun is shining and the wind is blowing everywhere. But it’s hard to imagine those conditions existing at any time, let alone during cold, calm Canadian winter nights when power is needed most.

Ontario consumers learned this first-hand after large-scale investment in costly windmills and solar panels sent their electricity rates from among the lowest in North America to among the highest, and driving the province’s manufacturers south to the welcoming arms of Georgia and the Carolinas.

Given these realities, it’s hard to understand how G7 leaders could agree to base the energy security of their citizens on a plan that defies the laws of physics – which, unlike the laws they deal in, are unchangeable and irrefutable.

What about other alternatives to replace the 84 per cent of energy supplied by fossil fuels?

At the moment, hydroelectricity accounts for 6.4 per cent of world energy supply, nuclear for 4.3 per cent, and geothermal and biofuels just 1.7 per cent.

Hydro is a zero-emissions energy source but most of the world’s rivers are already dammed. Nuclear is also a zero-emissions energy source with huge growth potential, but new plants are very capital-intensive and often face strong public opposition. It’s hard to see how either of those sources could have a material impact in the foreseeable future.

Besides the laws of physics, G7 leaders must face another reality. The United States, the United Kingdom and the European Union produce just 27 per cent of global emissions. Most of the other 73 per cent comes from Asian countries. Emissions from China alone equal the G7’s 27 per cent.

And despite Chinese President Jinping Xi’s virtuous green rhetoric, his country built three times more emissions-intensive coal-fired electrical capacity in 2020 than the rest of the world combined.

Meanwhile, to pursue their green energy fantasy, Canadian Prime Minister Trudeau and his G7 counterparts plan to further cripple their economies, which are already uncompetitive with China.

Should we give up hope of reducing greenhouse gas emissions?

Although it’s clear that net zero is simply not on, a substantial reduction is possible. And the biggest opportunity for emissions reduction lies in a fossil fuel that’s in practically unlimited supply: natural gas.

Burning coal to generate electricity causes 40 per cent of global fossil fuel emissions. Converting coal plants to natural gas reduces emissions from those plants by almost 50 per cent. Canada can do good by doing well – by exporting our bountiful natural gas supplies in the form of LNG (liquefied natural gas) to replace coal.

The LNG Canada project in Kitimat, B.C., will reduce Chinese CO2 emissions by 60 million to 90 million tonnes per year, the equivalent of shutting down 20 to 40 coal-fired power plants. That’s also the equivalent of taking some 80 per cent of Canada’s cars off the road.

This country has enough gas to supply many more LNG projects. A decade ago, 20 projects were proposed. But Canada’s byzantine regulatory approval process, which has earned our country its can’t-get-anything-done reputation, saw sponsors giving up after spending billions of dollars in preparation and regulatory costs.

Oil used for ground transportation and shipping contributes approximately one-third of global emissions. Converting vehicles and ships to natural gas cuts greenhouse gas emissions by up to 25 per cent. And that’s already happening. There are more than 20 million natural gas-fueled (NGV) passenger vehicles, heavy trucks and buses in the world.

Paradoxically, few of those are in the very G7 countries that vow to achieve net zero. Asian countries, led by China, India and Pakistan, account for the majority of NGVs, though probably because they’re more concerned with reducing dangerous levels of smog rather than greenhouse gas emissions.

Iran has the world’s second largest NGV fleet, which seems surprising until you consider that switching vehicles to natural gas allows it to export more oil.

The marine shipping industry is well advanced in replacing high-polluting bunker fuel with LNG. BC Ferries has taken delivery of several new LNG-powered vessels and has converted older vessels to natural gas.

Rather than ravaging the living standards of Canadians with carbon taxes and wasting public funds subsidizing green power, the federal government should commission an LNG export task force made up of government, industry and directly affected populations (including First Nations) to streamline the LNG export project approval process.

It should also support the creation of a nationwide filling station network for natural gas vehicles and eliminate fuel taxes for cars powered by natural gas.

It’s time for a Canadian emissions reduction strategy based on facts and economic opportunity, not fantasy.Gwyn Morgan is a retired business leader who has been a director of five global corporations.

Welcome to the gluten-free, sushi-less Olympic Games


by Sylvain Charlebois
Troy Media

The Tokyo Olympic Games are finally upon us. Most of the attention will be given to the athletes, the sports, the empty stands and, of course, COVID-19. But every Olympics brings the gigantic task of feeding an entire village of high-performing humans from all over the world.

In Tokyo, that means organizers need to feed 48,000 people every day amid a global pandemic.

Unlike previous Olympics, athletes aren’t allowed to go to restaurants outside the village, so the food offering needs to be tasty yet comprehensive and appropriate for all diets. Organizers are offering over 700 menu options, which they say is a record.

From fresh roti from a clay oven to conchiglie, you can get almost anything in the village. No matter where you’re from, you should be able to find what you need.

Diets will be separated into three main groups: Western, Japanese and Asian. The latter will include Vietnamese, Indian and Chinese foods.

As with every aspect of the pandemic-postponed Olympics, the virus will cast a long shadow on how people are fed. Most meals served during the Olympics will be informal dishes – no formal dining. The main two-storey cafeteria has 3,000 seats, supported by 2,000 staff at peak hours.

Big delegations like the United States, Russia and China will have their own facilities. Food is available 24 hours a day in the village and all of it’s free.

Seating has been reduced and athletes must keep mealtimes as short as possible. Since athletes must leave the village within 48 hours of the end of their event, food facilities will likely get less busy as the games move on.

People in the village will have access to staples such as ramen and udon noodles, accompanied by miso, a well-known fermented soybean paste central to Japanese cuisine. Grilled wagyu beef, okonomiyaki, sashimi and oden will also be available. And of course, the highly coveted bento box will be available, along with zaru soba, sukiyaki and takoyaki. All these traditional Japanese dishes are loved by many around the world.

However, due to stringent food safety rules, sushi, of all things, won’t be available. Only canned tuna and cooked shrimp. This will likely come as a disappointment as sushi is arguably the most well-known Japanese dish for westerners.

One can only assume that the last thing Olympic organizers want during a pandemic is a foodborne illness outbreak, so health-care services remain on alert for a potential COVID-19 wave.

As with anything food-related these days, meals will accommodate just about every religious and dietary restriction. Tokyo will be the first Games where an entire gluten-free section is offered.

Beyond the village lies the incredible complexities of making a food supply chain work to feed the Olympic athletes. Supply-chain experts know that 30 per cent of costs and more than 70 per cent of problems in transportation occur in the last mile, from warehouses to the Olympic village.

And this is Tokyo, one of the most populous cities in the world, where close to 38 million live. Travelling anywhere in the region can take hours. Yet fresh, safe food has to be delivered daily to the village.

To add to the difficulty, there’s also an extra layer of surveillance and quality assurance. With the sketchy history of performance-enhancing drug use by some delegations, the temptation to taint food is always there. Athletes are always one burrito away from losing a medal. So the entire food supply chain needs to be highly secure.

As if COVID-19 wasn’t enough for organizers, Tokyo is expected to experience 30C-plus weather for most of the Olympics. Keeping everyone cool will be a challenge. Nations will be allowed to bring recovery drinks and snack packs. So some aspects of food supply will come from the delegations themselves.

Tokyo will be a very different Olympics, and the food facet will be no exception. At least organizers won’t need to figure out how to feed thousands of fans at events, since they won’t be there.

Let’s hope COVID-19 doesn’t ruin the Games, one way or another.

Dr. Sylvain Charlebois is senior director of the agri-food analytics lab and a professor in food distribution and policy at Dalhousie University.

Canada’s clean energy future must include nuclear

Ignoring its potential as a fast track to adapting away from greenhouse gas-emitting technologies and resources would be a missed opportunity

by Krystle Wittevrongel
Troy Media

In 1950, Canada faced a difficult choice between the desire to be a leader in the development of nuclear energy technology and the fear that such technology would bring the end of the world a little closer.

Despite concerns related to the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Canada elected to be in the vanguard.

As a result, world-class Canada Deuterium Uranium (CANDU) reactors were developed in this country and exported around the world. The Chalk River nuclear facility in Ontario, where the CANDU model got its start, became a global contributor to many international nuclear technology projects. Today, Canada’s nuclear sector includes 19 reactors powering approximately 15 per cent of the country. Ontario, with 95 per cent of the country’s reactors, generated 60 per cent of its own electricity from nuclear power plants in 2020.

Yet today, this positive narrative has largely been flipped on its head. Due, in part, to anti-nuclear messaging from activists and certain politicians, the development of this technology has stalled, and with it, so has Canada’s capacity to compete as a global leader in the development of clean nuclear energy.

This is unfortunate when we consider some of the challenges we face today that were poorly understood in the post-war era. Nuclear energy represents one of the cleanest, most sustainable sources of power in a context in which reducing emissions has become a universal goal. But whereas nuclear energy once seemed to be the next logical step in Canada’s energy policy despite warnings about its destructive potential, today, nuclear power ironically gets a bad rap even though it may offer a way of avoiding destructive climate-related effects.

In 2050, Canada’s future leaders must see nuclear as more friend than foe. Ignoring its potential as a fast track to adapting away from greenhouse gas-emitting technologies and resources would be a missed opportunity. Turning a blind eye would also be increasingly unpopular as more and more people are becoming convinced of the dangers of climate change.

Admittedly, there are drawbacks to nuclear power, such as waste disposal. While manageable today, this will present more of a challenge as nuclear infrastructure grows to supply more than just 15 per cent of our electricity. Still, with Ontario already relying on nuclear for most of its power generation, Canada has only produced enough total spent fuel waste to fill the equivalent of a half-dozen hockey rinks to the height of the boards.

For the second-largest country on earth by land area, this is an infinitesimally small amount of space, which lends further support to the idea that Canada is relatively well-positioned to lead the world in developing this green energy source.

Many experts also believe that the technology is still in its infancy and may present risks when exported to countries that are not bound by international treaties which limit their capacity to produce nuclear weapons (think of China, India, Pakistan, South Africa, and North Korea in the 20th century). Yet these concerns seem marginal at best when we consider that Canada has a unique profile on the world stage: a reasonably high GDP per capita, a large pre-existing system for nuclear waste disposal, and a peace-oriented foreign policy guided by nuclear non-proliferation treaties.

Not only should there be flexibility for the government to invest in nuclear projects from now until 2050, but regulations should be relaxed to allow for the development of ever-smaller reactors. These could become the new frontier of capital investment in a more consumer-friendly energy market of the future.

And indeed, Canada has already started to invest in the development of Small Modular Reactors (SMRs). This is an exciting way for this clean energy technology to avoid the enormous state-subsidized start-up costs associated with larger reactors. With most experts pointing to cost as the largest barrier to a nuclear future, shrinking reactors could be a significant part of the solution.

Recent developments in Western Canada may point the way forward. With Saskatchewan set to phase out coal by 2030, the government has committed to funding its next stage of investment in alternative energy development projects. Currently focused on solar, the opportunity for nuclear in Saskatchewan is there.

If SMR technology continues to develop rapidly, Saskatchewan — with only a little over 10 per cent of Ontario’s real GDP but with a low incidence of natural disasters of concern for nuclear reactors — could become a Canadian leader in this technology. If so, it may be Saskatchewan that guides Canada on the path that it ultimately must take to produce ubiquitous clean energy by 2050 and cement its place as an exporter not only of goods but of good ideas.

In addition, nuclear energy can also potentially save lives in the immediate future. In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic exposed Canada’s lack of capacity and capability when it comes to producing pharmaceuticals domestically. Therapeutic radionuclides produced here could offer a path forward and allow Canada to escape some of its current dependence on other countries for life-saving treatments.

There is so much to hope for in a nuclear future for Canada, and so much to lose if we give in to old fears and new distractions.
When looking ahead to 2050, Canadians should not be afraid of what the country would look like with more nuclear power generating capacity, but what it would look like without it.

Krystle Wittevrongel is a public policy analyst at the Montreal Economic Institute. This commentary was co-authored by Eric Seguin.

Finding a new path forward driven by Indigenous people

By Ken Coates
Munk senior fellow
Macdonald-Laurier Institute
Troy Media

People are mad. Finally! And sadly, belatedly.

The discovery of the locations where hundreds of children were buried around abandoned residential school grounds has touched the country in ways that perhaps even the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission did not. People are responding to this revelation with sustained emotion and genuine anger. But this anger must for once be translated into action.

Put aside the fact that the broad contours of students’ death at residential schools were already widely known. The country’s reaction to the first major revelations of the deaths of students in the state’s care (revelations from decades ago at this point) was muted compared to the current response to radar-identified graves.

For many years, extensive Indigenous testimony and writing have described the deaths of children at residential schools. First Nations, Inuit and Métis people have spoken publicly about these tragedies thousands of times, and they have for decades overshadowed life in Indigenous communities. The scale of the current revelations and the heartbreak of thinking about young children, away from family and community, dying alone in institutions characterized by a lack of essential humanity, again highlights this shared intergenerational trauma.

While political parties at various levels may differ in their specific approaches, it seems that there is a shared sense of horror and disgust about the children’s deaths. Unfortunately, as more remains will be found – Indigenous testimony and other evidence are clear on this vital point – public reaction will likely decline in intensity as people become numb to these horrors.

We must therefore seize this moment. Surely children’s graves are enough to finally force a dramatic change as opposed to the social engineering and minor tinkering that has characterized policy for generations.

Government policy, far from being the solution to the issues facing Indigenous peoples, has been one of the primary sources of the problem, alongside ages-old patterns of racial discrimination and state-supported assimilation. The many faces of federal paternalism have brought and continue to bring great pain and suffering to First Nations, Métis and Inuit across the country.

Canada must first recognize Indigenous autonomy, self-government, and sovereignty over their lands and affairs – a move that the United States led on in the 19th century. The Indian Act, reserves and all the other vestiges of 19th- and 20th-century colonization must be replaced, under terms and conditions determined primarily by Indigenous peoples. To replace these colonial structures is a tremendous legal and political task. To accomplish this effort will take time, and will require the federal government to provide funding, civil service support, the initial scoping, and then simply to get out of the way, as was done when setting up the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

Facilitating a dramatic change in how Canada manages its relationships with First Nations, Métis, and Inuit peoples must be undergirded by an overhaul of how these communities are funded. At present, the funding due to Indigenous peoples arising from their unique place in Canadian history, and their constitutional, legal and treaty rights, is caught up in a bureaucratic web. In this web, far too much funding is determined by a system in which Ottawa makes priorities for communities, and communities with few personnel resources navigate a myriad of applications and program requirements simply trying to get the support they need.

This system needs to be completely altered. Funding should instead go directly to Indigenous governments, either at a large scale (like Nunavut, Métis Nation of Saskatchewan, or the James Bay Cree), more localized groups (like the Prince Albert Tribal Council or the Treaty 8 First Nations), or specific nations or communities (like the Carcross-Tagish First Nation or the Membertou First Nation). These communities are well equipped to manage their own priorities, and Indigenous peoples are fully capable of holding their own governments to account.

Once again, the task is not a simple one, as the challenges facing Indigenous communities vary dramatically. Ottawa needs to nonetheless expand the co-production of policy at all levels, establish clear avenues for ensuring shared financial priority setting, and establish better funding equivalencies between Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities. Funding allocation needs to shift away from program spending, which ebbs and flows from government to government, and move toward long-term block funding that is reliable, predictable, and fungible. There can be no autonomy for these Nations without autonomous financial decision-making, and thus these moves need to be a key part of the process.

Moreover, Indigenous communities should be empowered to engage (or not engage) in the natural resource economy. They must be able to access the types of own-source revenue that non-Indigenous people take for granted, just as they should be able to exercise the right to protect their own environments as they see fit, free of interference. And, Ottawa must ensure that communities have clear access to the full range of financial tools and services that others in Canada already do, including access to capital.

Ultimately, Ottawa must step back – way back – permitting the re-empowerment of Indigenous peoples and ensuring the systematic and rapid dismantling of state-driven control over Indigenous lives. This theme can carry to all elements of policy-making, whether that be education, resource development, health care, housing, and more. Negotiate modern self-governance agreements in good faith, then get out of the way.

In short: greater self-governance would put Indigenous communities in a position to better determine and protect their own needs and destinies.

It is impossible not to be profoundly moved by the realization that hundreds of children died in the care of the state while at residential schools in this country. This legacy will not be honoured by partisan political action, a new program or two, and the allocation of a few million dollars in additional funding.

If these graves symbolize anything, it is the abject failure of decades of government policy. Find a new path forward driven by Indigenous people. Do it now. Instead of letting the memories of what happened to those Indigenous children haunt the country for years to come, let the discovery of the hundreds of bodies be the launching point.

Ken S. Coates is a Munk senior fellow at the Macdonald-Laurier Institute.

New Canadians prospering in oil and gas sector

Immigrant wages in oil and gas extraction in Canada are rising faster than in other sectors

By Mark Milke and Ven Venkatachalam
Canadian Energy Centre
Troy Media

A few years ago, one of us took an early morning taxi ride in Vancouver. The driver, originally from Latin America, began to complain – without prompting – about how crazy it was that local anti-oil-and-gas protesters were trying to block the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion.

It was clear the driver instinctively understood that the world was going to need oil and natural gas for the foreseeable future. It was also clear he grasped that the resource sector, including oil and gas, was a major contributor to the Canadian economy.

He was correct about the contribution of the oil and gas sector to Canada, which supplied $493 billion in taxes and other government revenue between 2000 and 2018. That was bigger than the tax contribution of the construction ($276 billion) and real estate sectors ($193 billion) in the same years.

And oil and gas, measured as a percentage of nominal gross domestic product, is three times the size of the automotive sector and nearly seven times that of the aerospace sector.

The taxi driver also sensed that the oil and gas sector matters to Canadians in other ways, immigrants included.

In a new fact sheet just released by the Canadian Energy Centre, we demonstrate that landed immigrants have done well in Canada’s oil and gas industry.

For starters, 15,600 landed immigrants work in oil and gas extraction, not including on pipelines, in refineries, or in financing related to the sector. That’s nearly double those employed in oil and gas extraction in 2006, the earliest year for which comparisons are available.

Such immigrants to Canada also earn healthy incomes. The average weekly wage for landed immigrants in Canada in 2020 was $1,082 in agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting; $1,262 in manufacturing; $1,346 in construction; $1,792 in utilities; and a whopping $2,161 in oil and gas extraction.

So landed immigrants made twice as much in oil and gas extraction last year as did their counterparts in agriculture or fishing jobs. Those are good jobs but nowhere nearly as well paying as getting oil and gas out of the ground, into a pipeline, to a refinery, and then to Canadians and others for use in everything from plastics for smartphones to powering hospitals, schools and homes.

Immigrants would also be attracted to a career in oil and gas extraction because of increasing wages.

Between 2006 and 2020, the average weekly wage rose by $200 in agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting, and by $265 in utilities. Manufacturing wages rose by $291 in the same period, with construction wages up $357. In the oil and gas extraction sector, weekly wages for landed immigrants rose by $711 between 2006 and 2020, or twice as fast as in construction.

Depending on their education and specialization, immigrants to Canada will find jobs in any number of industries – from the service sector, to agriculture and to oil and gas extraction – if they have training in such things as engineering or accounting.

That those with such qualifications would be attracted to and a fit for oil and gas extraction makes sense from any number of perspectives. It also makes sense for Canada as a whole, as jobs in the oil and gas extraction sector can’t always be filled by existing workers.

So jobs in the oil and gas extraction sector makes sense for existing and new Canadians – something the taxi driver well knew.

Mark Milke and Ven Venkatachalam are with the Canadian Energy Centre, an Alberta government corporation funded in part by carbon taxes. They are authors of the report, New Canadians and the Oil and Gas Extraction Sector.

Are self-checkouts winning the machine-versus-human battle?

by Sylvain Charlebois

Troy Media

Only a few years ago, self-checkouts were seen as job killers by many Canadians.

 Grocers just didn’t know what to think of self-checkouts.

 And consumers had a love-hate relationship with them.

Some saw them as job killers, replacing humans who desperately needed employment.

Others quietly used them, either preferring a speedy exit or simply avoiding unnecessary human interaction, making self-checkouts valuable for anti-socialites.

 But with the pandemic, self-checkouts are becoming more popular, and grocers have noticed.

Since the start of the pandemic, 25 per cent of Canadians have changed where they typically shop for groceries, according to a recent survey by the Agri-Food Analytics Lab at Dalhousie University, in partnership with Caddle.

The survey was conducted in mid-to-late May 2021 and included 10,024 Canadians.

Twenty-five per cent is an astonishing number. Of this group, a good portion of respondents admitted that a switch was necessary due to declared COVID-19 cases related to the store they regularly visited.

Consumers are clearly concerned about potential exposure to the virus – or anything else, for that matter.

In the same survey, Canadians were asked how they intend to exit the grocery store in months to come.

A whopping 53.2 per cent of respondents intend to use self-checkouts regularly over the next six months or so. And 60.1 per cent of generation Z members (born between 1997 and 2005) and millennials (born between 1981 and 1996) are planning to use self-checkouts more often.

Self-checkouts are almost as popular as cashiers now.

 Barely two years ago, these numbers were quite different. According to CivicScience, in 2019 only 19 per cent of customers ages 55 and older were willing to use self-checkout counters, compared to 35 per cent of customers between the ages of 35 and 54.

The youngest customers have always been more open to using them, but that percentage was only 42 per cent in 2019. At the time, cashiers were still the most popular choice for all demographic groups.

 Throughout the pandemic, grocers have noticed more people are using self-checkouts.

So more stores are installing more machines. Even those stores that removed their machines are putting them back.

Many will remember record-breaking sales by grocers last year but 2021 presents a very different scenario. Statistics Canada recently reported that grocery store sales had dropped more than 1.5 per cent for the third month in a row.

 Grocers will need to work hard to retain their market share and make their customers feel safe, and self-checkouts will likely be part of the strategy.

 While visiting the grocery store, our focus now is on staying physically distant from others. It’s only natural to do the same while exiting the store.

 Some Canadians will continue to use cashiers, but their numbers will still be lower than before the pandemic.

 We expect more grocers to adopt more technologies to make the whole grocery shopping experience safer, and perhaps even less social, in the aftermath of the pandemic. We don’t know how long this will last, but the use of new technologies to make everything more efficient, more capital-focused and less dependent on labour will likely grow, to the dismay of organized labour.

 But few want underpaid employees who are constantly exposed to contamination.

With margins being so low in food retailing, paying staff more would mean eventually increasing food prices.

We will need to appreciate this at some point if we want grocery employees to earn a decent living.

 Self-checkout technology has never been great. Scanning issues, weighing the wrong produce, coding discounts and other problems at self-checkouts are numerous.

Unlike banking machines, which have operated seamlessly over the last 30 years, grocers have had issues creating an enjoyable self-checkout experience for most customers.

 In many cases, the experience is interrupted by an embarrassing call for assistance from a nearby clerk whose only job is to save you from technological misery.

 But with more shoppers committed to using self-checkouts, we expect some changes for the better.

 For grocers, the exit has always been the most mismanaged part of the shopping experience. Self-checkouts are only part of our grocers’ journey to embrace innovation that helps make our trips less onerous.

 Grocers went from fast cashiers with few items in the 1970s and 1980s, to self-checkouts in the 1990s, to perhaps a self-checkout model in which stopping at the exit is no longer necessary.

 One day, we will likely be able to exit a store as everything in our smart carts is automatically scanned.

The cart would do the calculating for you and the store.

 Self-checkouts aren’t about replacing humans. They’re more about how we can more effectively use humans to make the grocery industry more efficient.

Dr. Sylvain Charlebois is senior director of the agri-food analytics lab and a professor in food distribution and policy at Dalhousie University.

Sugar-coating a sugar tax won’t make it any more palatable

by Sylvain Charlebois
Troy Media

In its recent budget, the Newfoundland and Labrador government announced it will introduce a tax of 20 cents per litre on sugary drinks, starting on April 1, 2022. This a first in Canada.

So far we know very little about how the tax would work, which products would be affected and how revenues from the tax would be used by the government.

However, when a government commits to taxing a food product – or any product for that matter – it needs to proceed with extreme caution.

Many countries have taxed sugary beverages, with some degree of success. Mexico has become a well-documented soda tax case in recent years. Its per capita consumption of soft drinks is among the highest in the world, and it has high rates of obesity and diabetes.

A recent report from Mexico’s Sánchez Romero Supermarkets looked at the market three years after the tax was implemented. It noticed that the probability of becoming a medium or high consumer of soft drinks in Mexico had decreased because of the tax. And the probability of becoming a low consumer or non-consumer had increased. Those are encouraging results.

The study, which received a lot of media attention, led many public health experts to support the sugar tax concept simply based on a belief that it will discourage consumption.

The reality is a little more complicated.

We’ve seen cases where demand for soft drinks has gone up even with a sugar tax. A recent study on how France and Hungary are coping with their soda taxes was quite telling. France found a minor decrease in sugar-sweetened beverage sales after tax implementation but overall soft drink sales increased. In Hungary, a decrease in sugar-sweetened beverage sales lasted just two years, followed by an overall increase in sugar-sweetened beverage sales.

Studies into the impact of taxes on sugar-sweetened beverages often look at soft drinks in isolation. But analysts have suggested that once a sin tax is implemented in a country, consumers are tempted to buy other non-taxed food products to get their sugar fix. Sale diversions at retail are rarely considered.

According to the Lancet, since the sugar tax was implemented in Mexico the obesity rate in the country has gone up rather than down. And Mexico still has the highest carbonated soft drink consumption per capita in the world, more than seven years after the sugar tax was implemented in 2014.

Studies have also noted that price elasticity for soft drinks barely matters. Prices will fluctuate all year round due to weather, promotions and category management practices. A tax won’t necessarily make these products more expensive at retail.

Given how high margins are in this category, price isn’t a factor for most consumers in countries with a soda tax. The sugar tax is simply just absorbed by the supply chain.

We should dread the moralistic state that uses sin taxes to punish consumption. We’ve seen it with alcohol, cannabis and cigarettes. We’ve come to accept that these products should be taxed for one reason or another. But these products aren’t food.

It’s hard to see how this can end well for consumers or taxpayers. If sugar can be taxed, a revenue-hungry government could also tax sodium and even fat. Some of the most natural food products have high sugar, sodium and fat content. Some dairy products, meats and even natural juices, for example, could be part of a government hit-list.

Another dark side of sin taxes is how the funds are spent. Funds generated from sin taxes are often ill-directed, supporting a government’s problem of the day. Funds end up in some bureaucratic black box and are often used for other means than originally planned. Many countries have promised to use revenues from sin taxes on preventive medicine programs, awareness campaigns or health care generally. It either rarely happens or the accountability is just not there.

Most public health experts will desperately want to believe in the effectiveness of a sin tax on food, but the evidence is weak at best. Most studies suggesting a decrease in consumption of taxed products have flawed samples.

Education may be the most powerful tool we have.

Soft drink consumption per capita in Canada has decreased in recent years – without a sugar tax. An increasing number of Canadians have moved away from sugar-sweetened drinks due to effective awareness campaigning.

Empowering consumers with more information can only lead to altered behaviours and choices.

If Newfoundland and Labrador pursues a sugar tax, it’s certainly not to get its people to lead healthier lifestyles. Based on what has happened elsewhere, the government should be honest and state that this is very much about paying its bills.

Dr. Sylvain Charlebois is senior director of the agri-food analytics lab and a professor in food distribution and policy at Dalhousie University.

Food industry code of conduct finally gains traction

Recognizes that manufacturing – including farmers – are the anchor to the entire food supply chain

by Sylvain Charlebois
Troy Media

A new coalition led by the Retail Council of Canada (RCC) has presented a roadmap to peace within the food industry. It’s a positive step forward for the food production industry and consumers.

For years, grocers have unilaterally imposed fees on their suppliers, with questionable excuses. While grocers maintained a hard line to protect margins, food manufacturers and farmers – often family-owned and operated – were squeezed financially.

RCC, which represents Canada’s major grocers, always opposed any form of intervention and maintained no changes were required.

That all changed recently.

RCC and its alliance of stakeholders suggest an industry-led code of conduct, without public regulations. The model mirrors the Code of Conduct for the Credit and Debit Card Industry in Canada and the Fruit and Vegetable Dispute Resolution Corp. These bodies operate without any government intervention.

The alliance includes several other interest groups in the food supply chain, like farmers, processors and independent retailers. Almost 40 trade groups reportedly support this model, including 19 farming groups and 15 food processing groups.

The approach is incredibly inclusive.

The federal working group charged with submitting a final report in July has received the proposal.

Just a few weeks ago, another code of practice proposal was presented to the working group by Food, Health & Consumer Products of Canada, with the support of Sobeys, the number two grocer in the country. The principles were very much the same, except this proposal suggested the involvement of public authorities.

Both the United Kingdom and Australia implemented similar codes years ago. It was argued then that compliance could only be assured by getting governments involved. Since only provinces can provide oversight on these matters in Canada, a buy-in from all provinces is critical.

So two views are being presented to increase our country’s food autonomy by recognizing manufacturing as the anchor to the entire food supply chain.

Since many farmers produce finished products, food manufacturing includes them.

The question is no longer whether Canada will have a code of conduct to support farmers, food manufacturers, and independent grocers. It’s more a matter of what it will look like and who’s responsible for oversight.

This supply-chain issue may be seen as irrelevant to Canadians, but it’s not. This is very much about realigning a power imbalance that has been prevalent in the industry for years, and that imbalance favours grocers.

More discipline and predictability related to market conditions will give more authority to food manufacturers and farmers. Such measures will also likely give space to more diversity, excitement and innovation in food retailing.

Loblaw or Walmart may very well think they know what consumers want and need. But with consumers seeking value, and product attributes changing regularly, an efficient code will ultimately give more power to consumers.

Independent grocers could also get a chance to compete against larger operators.

Setting up the right model in Canada won’t be easy. The system needs to be transparent and effective. As much as industry wants to self-regulate, it has some embarrassing baggage it needs to consider.

Given what happened in recent years with the bread pricing scandal, for example, it’s unclear if Canadians have an appetite for more self-regulatory arrangements.

While industry needs an effective code, Canadians need to trust it to not feel cheated at their favourite grocery store.

We must remember that a code of conduct isn’t just about helping the industry; it’s mostly about creating a moral contract between the public and the food industry. A new code should be about serving Canadians and our economy, not just the latter.

The support of provinces, with some federal co-ordination, would be needed. And given their sizable markets and strong track records for appreciating our food supply chain’s integrity, Ontario, Quebec and British Columbia should be influential voices.

But more government involvement could come with unwarranted headaches. With governance, we need to move with extreme caution. Once we create more governance, the industry will need to live with it. Change, however necessary and however small, will always be challenging. If governments are involved, and the model is ill-designed, implementing changes could be a nightmare.

But ultimately, it’s a win for everyone that a federal working group is looking at the issue and that many stakeholders are already providing potential solutions.

Dr. Sylvain Charlebois is senior director of the agri-food analytics lab and a professor in food distribution and policy at Dalhousie University.

A fast and furious bit of grovelling from John Cena

by Maurice Tougas
Troy Media

Are you familiar with John Cena?

If not, good for you; he’s not really worth knowing about.

For the uninitiated, John Cena is a former professional wrestler. According to the World Wrestling Entertainment website, he’s a 16-time WWE champion, author and ‘actor’ (quotes are mine).

To quote directly from the website: “After gaining the respect of his peers by stepping to The Olympic Hero, Cena went supernova as the fire-spitting Doctor of Thuganomics, eventually reaching the peak by upending JBL for his first WWE Championship at WrestleMania 21.”

If you don’t understand any of that, don’t worry. It’s all nonsense.

The bottom line is that Cena is a freakishly muscled wrestler/actor in the Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson mode. He is also a snivelling, simpering coward. Yes, I said it. Come and get me, John, he said, knowing full well John Cena will never read this.

Cena last week issued a grovelling apology for an alleged insult. Now, grovelling apologies are routine amongst the celebrity classes. There isn’t a week where a celebrity doesn’t say something instantly labelled racist/sexist/homophobic/transphobic or a combination of all four, who then issues a clearly-not-written-by-them apology to the Twitter mob.

Cena found himself in one of those situation recently. His crime?

He angered China. No, not Chyna, the former WWE wrestler (who is dead, anyway). And not china from your grandmother’s curio cabinet. The real China.

Here’s the story. Cena is starring in a new film called F9, the latest instalment in the bafflingly popular Fast and the Furious movie franchise. (If you’re unfamiliar with the Fast and the Furious franchise, essentially it is about a bunch of good guys and bad guys find an excuse to race around the world in fast cars. That’s basically it.)

Cena was promoting the movie in Taiwan, where he made the following unpardonable statement: “Taiwan is the first country that can watch” the film.

Did you catch the offending term? Maybe Taiwan isn’t the first country to see the film?

No, Cena’s crime was calling Taiwan a country.

Now, you and I may think Taiwan is a country, because it is. Twenty-three million people live there. They have their own passports. It’s the 22nd largest economy in the world. Sounds like pretty good bona fides to claim nationhood.

But China says Taiwan is part of China, and the Chinese Communist Party – the most powerful organization in the world – takes these matters very seriously. The world has tiptoed around this issue, not wanting to irritate China, particularly in light of the fact that, according to reports, China has 2,000 ballistic missiles pointed at Taiwan.

John Cena doesn’t want to irritate China, either. He really, really, really doesn’t want to irritate China.

After his supposed blunder in calling Taiwan a nation, Cena posted a video apology. To make sure it got to the right people, he released it on Weibo, a Chinese social media network. And he spoke in Mandarin.

“I made a mistake,” Cena snivelled. “Now I have to say one thing which is very, very, very important: I love and respect China and Chinese people.

“I’m very sorry for my mistakes. Sorry. Sorry. I’m really sorry. You have to understand that I love and respect China and Chinese people.”

The only thing that would have made that more obsequious is if he was bowing humbly.

But why would John Cena care if China doesn’t like him? Could it have anything to do with $$$$$? Or maybe ¥¥¥¥¥?

China is a massive market for Hollywood slop. In 2020, China took over as the world’s biggest movie box office. If the producers of F9 want to recoup the film’s $200-million budget (movies have to make a least double their budget to make a profit), they’re going to need that sweet, sweet yuan.

And if that means the heroic, hyper-muscled star of the film has to grovel to the communist rulers of the most oppressive, most dangerous country on Earth, then get down on your knees, John, and say you’re sorry.

Sorry, sorry, sorry.