An apple a day to increase farmers’ pay

First of its kind Canadian research shows that health-related nutrition policies benefit farmers financially

Montréal: New research from the Université de Montréal reveals farmers’ revenues are negatively impacted when consumers buy ultra-processed foods compared to fresh, minimally processed foods like vegetables and fruits. Considering nearly half of all daily calories consumed by Canadians come from unhealthy ultra-processed foods, the findings underscore the importance of considering health and nutrition in all policies, including food and agriculture.

“Farmers receive pennies on the dollar when Canadians purchase ultra-processed foods like juice, cookies and frozen meals,” says Dr. Jean-Claude Moubarac, assistant professor at the Université de Montréal and author of the report. “In fact, farmers receive a three to eight times higher share of revenue when they sell fresh produce to consumers compared to selling the same foods as ingredients for ultra-processed products.”

The research, commissioned by Heart & Stroke, looked at the impact of consumer spending on eleven commonly consumed food product categories, separated into ‘healthy’ or ‘unhealthy’ according to the type of processing and healthy eating recommendations in Canada’s food guide. Consuming a diet high in ultra-processed products is associated with higher rates of chronic diseases including hypertension, cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes. An economic model of all transactions between industry sectors, including farmers, food processors, transportation, storage and trade intermediaries was used to answer the question of whether farmers earn more when Canadians purchase fresh, minimally processed foods like vegetable and fruits or when they buy ultra-processed products like fruit juices and salty snacks.

The model revealed that farmers drew a significant share of total revenues when Canadians bought fresh or minimally processed foods such as fresh vegetables and fruit. Farmers received 21 cents of every dollar spent on fresh potatoes, 13 cents for fresh vegetables and five cents for fresh fruits and nuts. Revenue dropped to two cents for every dollar spent on ultra-processed foods, including cookies, crackers, sweet goods and snack food products and even less for fruit and vegetable juices at one cent per dollar spent.

Dr. Moubarac points to policies that support, promote and protect the production and consumption of healthy, minimally processed foods as critical to supporting the agriculture sector and addressing the ongoing chronic disease crisis in Canada.  “Policies like front-of-package nutrition labelling and restrictions on the marketing of unhealthy food and beverages to kids, in addition to policies that address food security challenges, would benefit not only the health of Canadians and the health of our planet, but also the economic livelihood of farmers.”

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Kim Rupnarain
Communications Advisor, Heart & Stroke