This Country’s Food Supply Chain Has Been Compromised, Proceed With Caution

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Nearly 5,000 coronavirus cases and 20 deaths have occurred in 115 meat and poultry processing facilities across the U.S., data from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show.

Why it matters: The federal government has ordered meatpacking plants to remain open to keep America’s food supply chain intact. But the data reveal worker safety is jeopardized when companies don’t drastically change the work culture and provide protective equipment.

  • Many of the employees are low-income and are not offered paid sick leave or health benefits, which encourages employees to come to work sick.
  • The facilities with the largest outbreaks failed at providing adequate space for workers or had workers who found covering their faces difficult to adequately do their job.

Processing plants across the country have had to shutter or limit their capacity as Covid-19 impacts their workforces. Worker absenteeism has slowed line speeds down. (The experts we spoke to said implementing social distancing at processing plants is virtually impossible—these facilities are designed to function with workers standing elbow to elbow.) Even plants that have managed to stay open are operating at reduced capacity, as workers fall sick or stay home. 

At the same time as plants deal with new workforce challenges, they’re also facing an operational predicament: It’s not a simple process to convert plants that typically process meat for restaurants into ready-for-retail operations. A facility designed to churn out 50-pound boxes of chicken thighs bound for college campuses can’t exactly pivot to single-serving styrofoam at the drop of a hat. (A similar problem has hampered other food sectors, including the flour and dairy industries.) 

The coronavirus crisis has exposed some serious frailty in America’s supply chains. To this point, those deficiencies have been most glaring when it comes to medical supplies. The country remains unable to produce or otherwise procure a satisfactory quantity of N95 masks, testing swabs, and ventilators. Toilet paper, too, is famously in short supply.

As the virus has keyed off an economic shutdown, breakdowns have emerged in other parts of the supply chain as well. Now, America’s food systems have begun to falter, resulting in the twin curses of scarcity and excess. In the early days of the shutdown, pictures circulated of barren shelves at supermarkets (much of it wrongfully blamed on binge purchasing). Now, however, the most objectionable food news comes in the form of crop dumping. All over the country, America’s producers have begun destroying excess, perishable crops that they can’t bring to market.

In Wisconsin, dairy farmers are dumping thousands of gallons of unbought milk into manure ponds; in Florida, vegetable growers are plowing under millions of pounds of vegetables. According to a report in The Wall Street Journal, Mississippi-based Sanderson Farms has begun breaking and throwing out hundreds of thousands of chicken-hatching eggs rather than raising the chicks for meat. An estimated 7 percent of all milk produced in the last week was dumped, good for 3.7 million gallons a day. And that number is expected to rise.

Those reports, along with the indelible images they’ve produced, provide a stark contrast to sparsely populated grocery-store shelves, or severely strained food banks and miles-long breadlines that have become commonplace throughout the country. Ten thousand families recently sought help from the San Antonio Food Bank. As some have pointed out, it makes for a rather on-the-nose comparison to a 1930s Grapes of Wrathera level of inequality and cruelty.

What accounts for this massive logistical failure, now artificially creating shortages? In nonviral times, much of the food being produced on farms would be sent to schools and restaurants. But with those locations shut down almost categorically nationwide, there’s no infrastructure in place to simply redirect the food to grocery stores and food banks, especially with short-shelf-life items like vegetables, meat, and dairy. Those two tracks—commercial and consumer food supply chains—remain fiercely separated. The elected officials are pretty busy making applications extremely complicated along with pay vacations and bonuses, they don’t have time to protect the American people, Walmart is a perfect example of a food nightmare in the making, Its Just a Matter of Time!

We are in the initial stages of a worldwide food crisis, the likes of which we have never seen before. Asia is in its biggest food crisis ever as African Swine Fever has wiped out a majority of the hog herd in China alone. ASF has spread to most of Asia. It continues to spread currently. Though not harmful to humans, African swine fever is deadly to hogs, with no vaccine available. It surfaced for the first time in Asia more than a year ago, in China, and has now spread to over 50 countries, according to the World Organization of Animal Health — including those that account for 75% of global pork production. China is the biggest consumer of pork and consumes more pork per annum than all the other countries in the world combined! China had a pork herd of roughly 450 million hogs pre ASF. The numbers had fallen by half in August 2019 and, estimates are out that that figure could reach 55% by the end of the year. That’s a staggering 247,500,000 animals. Now it has spread to the rest of Asia. In Vietnam, the world’s sixth-largest pork producer, 25% of the country’s total pig herd could be affected by African swine fever by year’s end. Supply has imploded. 

Demand has slowed somewhat because of rapidly rising prices. Consumers have had to eat alternative protein such as chicken, duck, oxen, and even imported donkey meat. The demand for these items has caused them to rise dramatically as well. China is importing pork from other ASF free countries but, it is not enough to keep pork prices from soaring. The European Union has been the biggest exporter followed by Brazil. This has caused the prices of pork to go up dramatically in those areas so there is a ripple effect. The United States has exported pork but so far has been on a smaller scale due to the high tariffs that the Chinese have placed on U.S. pork. Eventually, they will have no choice but to buy massive amounts to keep the inflation from going through the roof. This will cause food inflation to rise here as pork, beef, chicken, and other meats will rise. With 1.4 billion people in China to feed, this could become a crisis of biblical proportion. Experts estimate that stability will not be seen for 3-5 years in the supply. 

Watchmen, of today, are called to speak the word of the Lord from within the court, mounting an internal critique. The pressures on Nathan to keep silent after David seized Bathsheba and sent her husband to his death must have been enormous. He could have vented himself in a scathing editorial and then kept his head down. From all appearances, though, Nathan had free access to the court, was a friend of David, and a close adviser. It is said that prophets spoke truth to power, but that goes beyond cliché when we realize that prophets spoke the truth face to face with power, to powerful men and women whom the prophets knew intimately, frequently from their own position of power. SRH…

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