Majority of Canadians believe that hunger and food insecurity will worsen as a result of COVID-19

86 per cent also believe that agriculture and agri-food plays a key role in Canada’s national security and critical infrastructure

As we continue to show progress in the fight against COVID-19, anxiety is beginning to move from concern about the virus itself, and toward jobs and the economy*. With an unprecedented 2 million losing their jobs in April, we are in uncharted waters as to what the longer-term economic and social impact this crisis will have.

Food banks throughout the country are also trying to negotiate these uncharted waters. When people are out of work, they often have to rely on food banks. Many throughout Food Banks Canada’s network – the thousands of food bank employees and volunteers working to meet the immediate need in their local communities – are now trying to prepare for the unknown that lays ahead. 
A remarkable show of support from government, individuals, and corporations, as well as the implementation of a range of federal and provincial income security initiatives, have gone a long way to help both address and mitigate some of impact of the current crisis. Now, concern is shifting to what will happen in three to four months time, when the temporary income security initiatives run out, but rent will still need to be paid and food will still need to be put on the table.

Despite all the uncertainty, the importance of food, not only as a basic need for an individual, but for society as a whole to function, has become explicitly clear.

In a new poll conducted in partnership with Grassroots Public Affairs, results show that the vast majority of Canadians feel that hunger and food insecurity will become worse because of COVID-19, and recognize the role that rising unemployment will have on people’s ability to purchase and afford food. Canadians also consider the agriculture and agri-food sector to have an extremely important role to play in Canada’s national security and critical infrastructure. Lastly, Canadians feel that governments bear the most responsibility in managing the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on hunger and food insecurity in Canada.

Nearly 65% of Canadians believe that hunger will become a serious problem because of COVID-19. Given that there were over 1 million visits to food bank a month prior to the pandemic, a growth in hunger and food insecurity is being closely monitored by the food bank network.

71% of Canadians feel that rising unemployment will have the greatest impact on people not being able to afford food. Looking back during the recession of 2008, food bank use increased by 28 per cent, and this occurred at the same time as unemployment rates skyrocketed. Looking ahead, we anticipate a sharper increase in need, especially when some of the temporary income supports such as the CERB run out.

Nearly 60 per cent of Canadians see the agriculture and agri-food sector as being of very large importance when it comes to Canada’s national security and critical infrastructure. These results may demonstrate that food security – the ability for people at all times to “have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe, nutritious food to meet their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life”†– has its importance reinforced during a period of global crisis.

When it comes to managing the impacts of this crisis on the food security of Canadians, 62 per cent feel the government bears the most responsibility. While all sectors in society have a role to play in helping to address food insecurity, we will need continued strong federal leadership to address the range of supports needed in order to ensure Canadians have continued access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food.

Looking ahead: the role of food, and food security, in Canada’s recovery

While this crisis has heightened awareness of the crucial importance of the agriculture and agri-food sector in our society, it has also reinforced the vulnerability that many have to food insecurity, and the central role that government has in mitigating this vulnerability.

The last couple of months has seen the introduction of key initiatives that has seen the federal government reinforce this role, through supporting front line agencies such as food banks meet the immediate need, as well as though income security initiatives such as the CERB and boosts in tax benefits that enable individuals to be able to purchase their own food. These income security initiatives have been crucial in helping to moderate the impact of high unemployment on food bank demand.

As we move forward in our recovery from this crisis, it will be important to remember the importance of having a food secure population has on overall health of a country – and its ability to respond to a global crisis on the scale that we are seeing. In order to adequately address food insecurity and reduce the need for food banks, we will need long term social policy that will help folks get back into the workforce and support people out of poverty. Building on the momentum that has enabled the introduction of new income security initiatives and intergovernmental collaboration, we have the potential to achieve the policy change needed to effectively address and reduce food insecurity in Canada.

With this momentum, we have the opportunity to significantly revamp our income close the gaps in our safety net – including affordable daycare for all, income support systems that are adequate enough to lift people out of poverty and not our current system that keeps people stuck in it, and housing supports that allow people to keep enough of their rents for food and other basic expenses. Until that point, Canadians are worried about having enough food to eat, and they are looking at their governments to help them get through this crisis and beyond.


This national poll was conducted by Grassroots Public Affairs as part of their Grassroots Greenhouse 2020 poll, an annual snapshot of public opinion about Canadian agriculture and food. Full results of the Grassroots Greenhouse poll can be found here.

  • Online survey from representative panel 
  • N=1,004 
  • Canada-wide
  • Survey offered in English and French
  • Respondents 18+
  • Interlocking quotas as set out in the Canadian Census (Age, gender, province)
  • Fieldwork: April 16-20, 2020
  • Error: N/A for Online Polls (Comparable Margin of Error would be +/-3%, 19 times out of 20)

* Nanos Research,
† Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, Canada’s Action Plan, 9