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Down to Earth

Covid-19: Global food supply on a razor's edge

DOWN TO EARTH
DOWN TO EARTH © FRANCE 24

There were early signs the Covid-19 crisis would have implications far beyond the medical arena. Images of farmers heartbroken as their harvests never left the farm played beside footage of supermarket shelves stripped of essential supplies. In a matter of weeks, the coronavirus had exposed the fragility of our food supply system. While Covid-19 isn't the first or last crisis the world will face, is it the wake-up call needed to reform how our food gets from farm to fork?

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The ripple effects of the coronavirus have exposed weaknesses and inequalities in the way food is produced and distributed. The UN is now warning of a hunger pandemic in the wake of a health one. The World Food Programme has predicted the health crisis could almost double the number of people on the brink of starvation, pushing it to 265 million this year compared to 135 million in 2019.

Olivier De Schutter is co-chair of the International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food Systems (IPES-Food). He told FRANCE 24: ''We need to reshift our efforts from the search for efficiency to the search for resilience - resilience being the ability for a system to withstand a shock, whether it's climatic, sanitary or economic.''

'The food supply chain is breaking'

In the United States, the pandemic upended the meat supply chain as major plants shut amid outbreaks. It prompted the country's largest meat producer, Tyson Foods, to post a full-page advertisement warning of shortages and disruptions. Six words stood out most: "The food supply chain is breaking."

US President Donald Trump invoked emergency powers at the end of April, declaring the closure of meatpacking plants a threat to critical infrastructure, but it's still not clear how many employees will return to work.

Some supermarket chains like Costco have begun rationing meat.

The supply of meat in the US is controlled by a few giants and some experts say letting a handful of firms dominate the industry has made the process more efficient, but at the price of extreme vulnerability in moments like this.

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