The U.S. food supply chain is struggling to pivot as restaurants, schools and offices have closed all over the country to comply with coronavirus-related shutdowns.
Fresh produce is being left to rot in the fields at the same time that food banks are experiencing long lines and a sharp increase in demand because of job losses also related to the shutdowns.
The waste is happening because the way food is produced, packaged and delivered for restaurants and schools is very different from the way it needs to be for grocery stores and food banks. It takes time to make a major shift in food distribution, and in the meanwhile, perishable food that isn’t being used is going to waste.
Can the supply chain shift?
Grocery stores and food banks could certainly use additional food for their supply chains after a month of people stockpiling food out of fear. While Americans have seemed to be hoarding food since schools and many workplaces were shut down, some of the empty shelves are just an extension of the way the supply chain has been set up.
After all, people would need more food to feed their kids at home rather than at school, and they would also need more food to replace the meals they would normally have eaten in restaurants. It’s really a shift in how Americans are eating that has caused issues, rather than any actual food shortages in the country.
As a side note, the same supply chain issues are probably responsible for the toilet paper shortage as well. Leading toilet paper manufacturer Georgia-Pacific estimated that people staying home will use 40% more toilet paper there than they usually do when they spend the majority of their day at school or work.
After more than a month of school closings, shutdowns and stay-at-home orders, the American Farm Bureau Federation and Feeding America have asked the USDA for help in shifting some of the delivery system to get food where it is needed, according to ABC News.
Can the government help?
Rather than farmers spilling milk down the drain or letting produce rot in the fields because large commercial contracts are being canceled, the USDA and other agencies can buy the food from farmers and deliver it to food banks or stores that are still operating.
Such moves could be especially important in U.S. meat production right now, since some plants have had workers sickened by the coronavirus and had to shut down at least temporarily. If some of the meat used for restaurants can be sold in grocery stores instead, that could help ease shortages and cover the production of plants that need to be shut down until they can be cleaned.
Feeding America warns of red tape and said local partnerships and grass-roots efforts are going to work better than a large scale governmental effort in getting the food where it is needed in the short term, ABC News reported.
“This is an opportunity for USDA to act quickly to produce a win for food banks and a win for farmers. It is a chance for government to serve as a facilitator while clearing bureaucracy and red tape,” Feeding America President Claire Babineaux-Fontenot and Farm Bureau President Zippy Duvall said in a joint statement, according to ABC.
Nobody wants to see food wasted at a time when many may be in need, so let’s hope these efforts work and we don’t see real food shortages in coming months. That would be a huge problem that could end up killing more people than the coronavirus does, in the end.