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Food prices in Canada fell to 2.3 percent in April, the lowest rate since July 2021

Sylvain CharleboisStatistics Canada reported this week that food inflation in April stood at 1.4 percent, indicating that food prices in stores are 1.4 percent higher than a year ago.

However, Statistics Canada also confirmed a trend the Agri-Food Analytics Lab at Dalhousie University has been tracking for some time: food prices in April declined by 0.3 percent. Indeed, they dropped.

Looking ahead, we might witness another negative figure from Statistics Canada for May.

Remarkably, food inflation in Canada decreased for the fourth consecutive month in April, falling to 2.3 percent from three percent in March. Food purchased from stores experienced a year-over-year increase of 1.4 percent, the lowest since July 2021. This is the first instance since November 2021 where food inflation (2.3 percent) has fallen below the general inflation rate (2.7 percent).

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This is undoubtedly positive news, especially given the challenging years we have endured. Lower prices are what many Canadians have been yearning for. Yet, the reactions and comments about the inflation data suggest that few have recognized that Statistics Canada essentially announced a major shift in food pricing.

Very few media outlets reported on this development. This omission is quite revealing, suggesting a pervasive preoccupation with highlighting negative news in the data. The data released this week was certainly reassuring for the outlook for the rest of the year. Nevertheless, it appears few paid heed.

This reaction stems from a deeply ingrained obsession. Food inflation has been highly politicized and exploited by all sides of the political spectrum. The political weaponization of higher food prices has made most Canadians resistant to the rational analysis needed to understand the current situation. It’s astonishing to see. When someone challenges another’s narrative on food inflation, mutual accusations of conflict of interest and bias inevitably follow. We live in strange times.

At the heart of this awkward social discourse is a political contest between parties in Ottawa, which has exacerbated the situation and trapped all parties involved. Why would any party want the food inflation storm to dissipate when a significant portion of their messaging revolves around addressing the cost-of-living challenges we all face?

Jagmeet Singh, a vocal critic of Loblaw for alleged profiteering, seems unwilling to acknowledge the role of market forces. Similarly, Pierre Poilievre has little incentive to see the issue resolved. Why would he, when it serves as a perfect political problem the Conservatives can blame on the Trudeau government, even though food inflation has been a challenge in most developed nations for a prolonged period?

In the context of food prices, it’s crucial for cooler heads to prevail as soon as possible. Emotions and sentiments seem to hold more sway than data or science, which is absurd. Every Canadian needs to detach from their emotions, often mistaken for evidence of truth, and instead focus on what the data reveals. The data clearly indicates that the situation is improving, and rapidly so.

Before levelling accusations of bias, one should examine the data. Emotions and feelings, though intense, are always misleading guides to the truth.

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

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