Maintaining food security is a critical part of the global supply chain. Food security is “the state of having reliable access to a sufficient quantity of affordable, nutritious food.” Security can also apply to safeguarding the supply chain against disruption. As such, food security has declined dramatically in many developing countries. The pandemic could disrupt the ability to provide nutritious food to some of the world’s most at-risk populations. Even in the US, supply chains can be disrupted, as with the meat industry. We’ll look at Covid-19’s impact on food security and the supply chain, and steps to mitigate those risks.
Consumer hoarding – creating unnecessary shortages
A big challenge has not been the lack of resources and food, but political factors and fear-driven behaviors. With mass hoarding when the pandemic broke in the early spring, many grocery stores were unable to supply basic proteins such as chicken. When basic foodstuffs such as low-cost proteins are not readily available, this is a breakdown of the system. As with the refusal to wear masks, some Americans will not change their behavior quickly. Stores have put limits on certain items, and that has helped with shortages.
As a country of abundance, the US has the means to become self-sufficient and not rely on imported food – so it is disconcerting to see a supermarket with empty shelves.
Meat processing supply chain
The meat processing industry, predominantly staffed by minority workers, was hit hard by Covid-19, impacting these groups disproportionately. Alternatives to the regular meat supply chain have been addressed by startups focusing on other protein sources. Other than Beyond Meat, we have yet to see widespread adoption of meat substitutes.
The pandemic impacts aspects of global society other than our immediate health. Some changes will cause long term impact, with significant challenges to avoid further chaos and suffering. This op-ed in the Hill by Richard Hudson, who represents North Carolina’s 8th District and is co-chairman and founder of the bipartisan Agriculture and Rural America Task Force, covers “many meat processors are already leading the way and investing in new technology to address future supply chain disruptions related to infectious diseases. Historically, too much of the burden to ensure food safety has fallen on food preparers and cooks, even though some pathogens simply cannot be eliminated in the kitchen.”
Cyber-attacks with serious consequences
Beyond financial cyber-attacks, criminals and state sponsored hackers attack systems which support our well-being. An example in Israel was the recent cyber attack on its water system linked to the Iranian regime: “the official told the British newspaper in a report published Monday that hundreds of people would have been at risk of getting sick and that the attack was close to being successful.” If successful, this could have spiraled into another Middle East war.
Attacks on countries’ supply chains by terrorist organizations can extract a painful price. If a population is unable to be fed or lacks water, society will start to break down, as is in Lebanon, where food shortages are contributing to an 80% fall in the value of their currency. The pandemic has caused general chaos in the world, so it is important to keep our guard up as terrorists look to exploit suffering.
Preparation for the future
A future pandemic and climate change are real factors in coming years. If anything, Covid-19 is a sign to prepare, and may be the first of several crises in the coming decade. Economic factors could also play a part, as well as mass unrest, as we saw with social protests in the US and Europe.
This is something we cannot ignore. Covid-19 has infected millions, resulting in hundreds of thousands of deaths globally. Despite politicians’ claims, the United States is still in this crisis, with a climbing death rate in the hard-hit South and Southwest. Crises tend to come in threes – pandemic, the economy, and social unrest – so further supply chain disruptions could impact our food security.