Canada to spend C$252 million to help farmers and food processors hurt by coronavirus

Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau

OTTAWA (Reuters) – Canada will invest C$252 million ($179.5 million) to help some of the country’s farm and food processing sectors weather the coronavirus outbreak, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Tuesday, adding more money could come later if needed.

The Canadian Federation of Agriculture, one of Canada’s biggest farm groups, asked Ottawa last week for an initial C$2.6 billion in emergency funding to help the farming and food sector cover losses and additional costs caused by the pandemic.

Agriculture is considered an essential industry in Canada, where officials have shut non-essential businesses and have urged people to stay at home since mid-March.

The prime minister has repeatedly said Ottawa is focused on maintaining Canada’s food supply chain.

“This is an initial investment and if we need to add more, we will,” Trudeau said.

Canada’s total coronavirus death toll edged up by less than 4% to 3,915 on Tuesday from 3,766 on Monday, according to official data, in a sign the outbreak has peaked. Only once in the last 16 days has the toll jumped by more than 10% in a day and medical officials say the curve is clearly flattening.

Several food processing plants, primarily in the meat industry, have had to temporarily shut down after workers became infected with COVID-19, the illness caused by the novel coronavirus.

Trudeau said beef and pork producers, who have been forced to keep livestock on farms longer because of processing shutdowns, will receive C$125 million in AgriRecovery funding, a disaster relief program traditionally cost-shared between Ottawa and Canada’s 13 provinces and territories.

Another C$77 million will help food processors buy personal protective equipment for workers, adapt to new health protocols, and increase domestic processing capacity.

Ottawa will also launch a C$50 million food surplus purchase program to buy large quantities of certain items, like potatoes, milk and butter, where overall demand has fallen dramatically because of restaurant and bar closures. The food will then be redistributed to organizations focused on food insecurity.

(Reporting by Kelsey Johnson; additional reporting by David Ljunggren; editing by Steve Scherer and Bernadette Baum)

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