The Canadian Government’s plan to start turning away unvaccinated truckers at border crossings in January 2022 threatens to disrupt the food distribution industry. The new policy will require that all truck drivers crossing the US/Canada border be fully vaccinated as of Saturday, regardless of whether they are Canadian citizens or foreign nationals. If fully implemented, such a policy will make thousands of drivers on both sides of the border ineligible for cross-border shipments.

It’s estimated that 120,000 Canadian truck drivers run cross-border routes, while 40,000 U.S.-licensed truck drivers do the same. The Canadian Trucking Alliance (CTA) estimates that 38,000 Canadian truck drivers may opt out of cross-border work in the face of a vaccine mandate. Of course the number of truckers affected by the mandate will be even greater considering that several hundred U.S. truckers would be denied entry to and from Canada. Vaccination rates vary widely among trucking companies, with some reporting rates close to 100 per cent and others reporting rates below 50 per cent. Whatever the numbers may be, it is certain that the policy will worsen an already existing trucker shortage in the strained food distribution industry.

Canada imported $24 billion worth of agri-food products from the United States in 2019 including prepared foods, fresh fruits and vegetables and snack foods. Nearly 70% of the food imported arrives on trucks and this represents 20% of all the food Canadians buy in foodservice and retail. Likewise, U.S. total imports of agricultural products from Canada totaled $24 billion in 2019. Overall, Canada is the United States’ largest goods export market and Canada is the United States’ 3rd largest supplier of imported goods so any further disruption to the overall supply chain will affect both countries.

Due to many factors, including the Coronavirus epidemic and an aging work force (the average age of a professional truck driver is 55) there is already driver shortage. Further reductions may force manufacturers to slow production which in turn will mean higher costs from the snarling of a supply chain that depends on an open border for the movement of food products.

Assuming the CTA is correct in its estimates a shortage of 38,000 drivers translates to 76,000 fewer loads per week. It’s likely that the driver shortage will first result in a shortage of fruits and vegetables on the Canadian side of the border as freight rates for these fresh products will shoot through the roof. This will compound the truck shortage and affect prices for a wide variety of agri-food products.