Food supply chain disruption is becoming an increasing concern. Today, the Des Moines Register reports that National Beef’s Iowa Premium plant will be idled until April 20th due to infection of its workforce with COVID-19. This is the second such facility to close in Iowa in the past week. In South Dakota, Smithfield Foods’ Sioux Falls pork processing plant has closed indefinitely for the same reason. Other meat processing plants have closed in Colorado and Pennsylvania due to high absenteeism.
“These facility closures will also have severe, perhaps disastrous, repercussions for many in the supply chain, first and foremost our nation’s livestock farmers,” wrote Smithfield CEO Kenneth Sullivan. “These farmers have nowhere to send their animals.”
COVID grief is affecting farmers across the nation. According to NPR, “dairy farmers in Wisconsin, Minnesota and Georgia have been forced to dump thousands of gallons of milk that no one will buy. In Florida, vegetable growers are abandoning harvest-ready fields of tomatoes, yellow squash and cucumbers for the same reason.”
While there is no “food shortage” per se in the U.S.A., food banks and pantries are now under severe stress around the nation just at the time when the need is growing. In New York City, about 1 in 5 people depend on non-profit food banks such as Food Bank For New York City, which served 61 million meals in the year preceding the pandemic. Demand for its food has increased 50 percent since the pandemic began, and any increase in commodity prices hurt food relief efforts.
Plant closings and supply chain disruptions will likely continue to plague businesses and consumers as the nation seeks to reactivate its economy in the next several months. Consumers — many already stressed by COVID-19’s economic impact — will likely face increased prices for certain food staples, along with reduced choice, if such closings continue and farmers cannot bring their goods to market.
While it is hard to imagine that the U.S. will face food shortages severe enough to create social unrest, it’s clear that a hunger crisis has existed in America for years and that COVID-19 has the potential to exacerbate its worst effects, especially among those most at risk of falling to the virus itself.
Food banks need all the help they can get right now. These banks rely in large part on donations, and it was encouraging to read that Owl Rock Capital — a New York-based asset manager — made a generous $1 million dollar donation to the NY Food Bank this week.
If you have the means to donate — in large or small part — to such a food bank in your community, please do; in New York City, the Food Bank of New York’s COVID-19 donation page is at: https://www.foodbanknyc.org/covid-19/