Five Facts about the Pandemic’s Impact on Food Supplies

Images of farmers dumping milk and destroying ripe vegetables, coupled with long lines at food banks, have raised concerns about America’s food supply. The nation still produces enough food, experts say, but the coronavirus pandemic has disrupted supply chains and distribution patterns.

  1. Food producers can’t quickly switch from supplying restaurants to supplying grocery stores and food banks.

Farmers and other providers who traditionally sold to restaurants suddenly found their buyers shuttered. They couldn’t quickly shift their distribution operations to cater to new customers, such as grocers, and often had to destroy perishable goods. “Making the change from processing and packaging items for foodservice clients to preparing food for retail sales has proven to be a long and difficult process,” a MarketWatch article explains. For instance, it notes, “lots of items going through the foodservice supply chains are at a jumbo size,” which is too large even for warehouse retailers like Costco.

  1. Panic buying, high demand and lost volunteers are squeezing food banks.

Even with U.S. food production remaining robust, panic buying and hoarding have left many grocery shelves empty. This provides fewer leftover items to donate to food banks, which rely on such supplies. Meanwhile, newly unemployed people are turning to food banks just when many volunteers are staying home to avoid the coronavirus.

  1. The food chain disruption is global.

Many other nations are suffering similar disruptions, creating a domino effect worldwide. With laborers, drivers and others unable to go to their jobs, the entire network for moving food is hindered. When China, for instance, sent fewer cargo containers to other nations, those containers were unavailable to be refilled and sent elsewhere.

  1. Despite disruptions, the nation has ample food overall.

The Food and Drug Administration says “overall, retail supply chains remain strong.” Empty grocery shelves, it says, “are largely due to unprecedented demand – not a lack of capacity to produce, process and deliver.” Independent news organizations agree that the nation has enough food for its residents, provided it’s distributed adequately.

  1. Thousands of U.S. parents say their children don’t get enough food.

In a Brookings Institution survey of mothers with children 12 and under, 17.4 percent said their children were not eating enough. Advocates note that many low-income children usually receive meals at schools, which have been closed by the pandemic.


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