EDMONTON -- Alberta’s agriculture minister says shelves empty of meat and long-shelf-life goods are a demand issue – or the result of hoarding – not a supply issue.

The two types of food products are what Albertans are buying the fastest, Devin Dreeshen said Thursday, offering assurances the province’s food supply chain is in good health despite the pandemic.

Dreeshen told media his department has daily meetings with different parts of the supply chain.

“Do not hoard food and daily essentials. The system is intact and people should be mindful of irrational panic buying and the effect it has on their neighbours,” Dreeshen directed Albertans.

Major retailers have counted a 50 per cent increase in total sales, and a doubling of sales per customer since the pandemic started, Dreeshen said.

But CN Rail has assured the Alberta government it has the capacity to keep supply moving, and long-haul truckers who cross the Canada-U.S. border daily have been made exempt from the two-week isolation rule.

Dreeshen said a “tremendous” amount of Canada’s supply chain depends on international trade.

“That’s why it’s critically important to make sure the border remains open… and (truck drivers) don’t have to self-isolate,” he commented.

“If they had to wait two weeks every time they crossed the border to self-isolate, essentially – even though the border would be open – it would essentially crush a lot of our supply chain.”

His department has filed an official request to have the entire food supply chain – producers, processers, retailers and distributors – deemed an essential service. The declaration means services considered essential would remain open and operating in a lockdown scenario, when other non-essential businesses are shut down. 

Some processors have told him they’re working 24/7 to keep up with demand.

The ministry promised it was also working to ensure supply chains for agriculture producers weren’t affected.