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Chocolate, beer, wine: Climate change takes bite out of life's little pleasures

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A cold beer on a hot, dry day is almost a cliché, but there have been too many hot dry days in the past couple of years.

While Alberta's government continues to sound the alarm over a worsening drought, the province's brewers worry many of their key supplies could be getting harder to find.

Brad Goddard, vice-president of business development at Big Rock Brewery, says grain supplies and water are their main concerns.

"When drought takes the supply of Alberta barley and shrinks it, which it is absolutely going to happen, the costs will go up. ... I think that's going to put a big pinch on beer drinkers' wallets," Goddard said.

"Water is the No. 1 input. The cost of utilities in Alberta has seen, you know, pretty steady increase. The cost of water I expect to go lockstep and boy, when you look at the trucks in the parking lot picking up beer, they're mostly full of water. It's water that's been value added with alcohol, but it's mostly full of water."

Oenophiles will also see their favourite drink in shorter supply.

Wineries in Spain have been hit by record heat and in France, freezing cold, straining those countries' supplies.

Here in Canada, Miles Prodan, president of Wine Growers B.C., says almost all that province's vineyards will need replanting after last year's heat dome was followed by a prolonged period of extreme cold this winter.

"Climate change is having a direct impact. It's just that last freeze event we had in January, we're anticipating it to have reduced our total crop that we're expecting to get this fall by 99 per cent, so that wipes it all out, so we're not anticipating to have many if any grapes this fall," Prodan said.

"We're really looking at stretching this out. So for this summer, we're talking about grapes from the last two years. And so, there is wine, but generally, wineries are now anticipating there to be not as much in the future (and) are bringing it back home. We call it 'bringing it to the winery.'

"So it's going to be harder to find on the shelves, either here in B.C. or in Alberta."

Even the most Canadian of commodities – maple syrup – is in short supply.

Mild temperatures for the second straight winter mean another early start to tapping trees, meaning the sap has started flowing before many producers are ready to collect it, and before the sap has achieved its optimum sugar content.

It comes at a time when the entire country's maple syrup reserves are extremely low.

The reserve is in place to make sure there's always a consistent supply of maple syrup to export.

A few years ago, it held more than 100 million pounds of syrup.

But this past year, less than seven million pounds – a low that hasn't been seen in 15 years.

"We have had a surge in demand and exports in terms of maple syrup in the last three to four years," said Simon Doré-Ouellet, deputy general manager for Québec Maple Syrup Producers.

"During that time span, we have had more problems producing maple syrup."

If this all seems too much and you want to console yourself with some chocolate, sorry – more bad news:

Edmonton-based chocolatier Jacqueline Jacek of Jacek Chocolate Couture says cocoa farms in the world's largest producing nations, Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire, have been hit by weather-related disease, and crops withering under an El Nino-driven heat wave.

"There's about 30 per cent less cocoa in the world right now with rising demand, therefore, (the price) will have to go up," Jacek said.

While Chocolate, beer, wine and even syrup are luxury items, a changing climate affects the entire food chain, said the University of British Columbia's Carol McAusland.

The environmental economist says Canada may fare better than most countries due to our unique northern geography, but climate change will still pose a serious problem here.

"We are not going to starve here in Canada, but it's going to be really hard on families for whom the food budget is a really big part of their budget," McAusland said.

"We have to think about how we can help those families make sure that they have enough money to be putting this more expensive food on their tables."

McAusland says governments need to develop long-term strategies to lessen the impact of climate change.

Until that happens, she warns, it won't just be the food supply that is affected.

"When we had the heat dome in British Columbia, the excess mortality in that one week was 600. Those were deaths. So, that's not because people didn't have food. It was because they didn't have homes that could keep them protected from extreme heat," McAusland said.

"We are going to see the forest fires again, people losing their homes and losing animals and losing other products, which are people's livelihoods, losing our forest. So, it's not just going to be food." 

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