Disconnected: What COVID-19 is doing to the food supply chain
(NaturalHealth365) As the country burrows in under shelter-in-place and stay-at-home orders, the COVID-19 pandemic has many consumers worrying about food shortages. And it’s easy to see why. A trip to the grocery store quickly becomes a reminder of food rationing in wartime America.
But the problem today isn’t a shortage of food; it’s too much food in the wrong places.
While the shelves at many grocery stores are empty of pantry staples, and food banks across the country struggle to meet spikes in demand, billions of dollars worth of food is going to waste because the coronavirus has disrupted the supply chain. Farmers from Florida to California are dumping thousands of gallons of fresh milk and plowing vegetables back into the dirt. According to the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition report, farm losses alone could top $1.32 billion from March to May.
A BROKEN distribution of the food supply can’t match supply with demand
The food supply chain is an intricate and elaborate distribution system, a Rubik’s cube-like arrangement of farmers and vendors, pickers and packers, laborers and logisticians all working to deliver huge amounts of food to consumers. Its efficiency relies on predictability and precise schedules; there’s always an endpoint, a destination.
The coronavirus lockdown stripped the food supply chain of many of its destinations – restaurants, workplace cafeterias, school cafeterias, hotels, resorts. Most of the big, bulk buyers are shut down. The food service industry has been one of the industries hardest hit by COVID-19. According to the Guardian, approximately half of the food grown in the U.S. was previously destined for restaurants, schools, stadiums, theme parks and cruise ships.
So where does the food go now?
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It ROTS. Because food meant for restaurants and schools can’t easily be repurposed because different packaging and labels are required.
Mountains of food waste
COVID-19 has caused the agricultural supply chain to become disconnected, and U.S. farmers and food companies are struggling to adapt. For example, 80% of Florida’s tomato growers sell their production to restaurants and food service companies; now those tomato growers need to find a way to get their production to supermarkets and food banks.
Unfortunately, as the supply chain struggles to adapt produce rots in fields, a surplus of perishable items goes to waste, and millions of pounds of vegetables are plowed back into the ground. Produce cannot be picked if it cannot be sold, and if it isn’t sold, farmers cannot afford the payroll every week.
So what happens now?
As the demand shifts from food service to food retail, federal agencies are scrambling to ease trucking and import rules, agricultural visas, and labeling requirments. The entire U.S. food network and supply chain needs to be recalibrated.
Meanwhile, dairy industry groups sent a milk crisis plan to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Chicken companies are condensing their flocks, and pork bellies are being rendered into lard, rather than bacon.
And unless the government acts quickly, the number of people suffering from chronic hunger could double. Ultimately, the best (healthiest) solution would be to increase the development of locally-grown food to service the needs of its communities. Placing a much greater emphasis on local farming will greatly enhance the wellbeing of all of us.
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