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There May Be More Coronavirus Food Shortages Around the Corner

The head of a major pork-processing company warned that we are “perilously close” to a meat shortage

Nearly empty meat aisle in a grocery store.
A grocery store in Missouri City, Texas, with a picked-over meat aisle during the coronavirus pandemic.
Photo: michelmond/Shutterstock

Prepare for disruptions in the food supply chain as effects of COVID-19 ripple across the industry

In recent weeks, cracks have started showing in the U.S. food supply chain, prompting worries about disruptions and shortages of certain staples, all while excess perishable foods are being destroyed without making it to consumers.

As workers in fields, factories, warehouses, and grocery stores face increased risks of coronavirus exposure — and, in some cases, fall ill or die from COVID-19 — there will be disruptions in food production and distribution, the New York Times reports.

While there won’t be a mass shortage of food in general, consumers may not have the abundant variety that they’re used to seeing in supermarkets. Shoppers have already been dealing with some difficulties finding flour, yeast, eggs, and other essentials. Now, as meat processing plants begin to close amid outbreaks of the virus among workers, we may see unpredictable availability of pork, poultry, and beef, too, with the chief executive of Smithfield Foods — a major pork-processing company that recently shut down a plant in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, indefinitely — warning that the U.S. is “perilously close to the edge in terms of our meat supply.”

Meanwhile, as Alexander Sammon writes for the American Prospect, farmers are dumping thousands of gallons of milk, throwing out chicken-hatching eggs, and destroying heaps of crops. The problem is that the commercial and consumer food supply chains are separated by a chasm of logistics, and there’s no infrastructure to easily reroute all the food meant for commercial use — places like restaurants and schools, which have both largely shut down — to grocery stores, where regular consumers can access them. The result, as Sammon writes, is “the twin curses of scarcity and excess,” a cruel juxtaposition of bare shelves and cars lined up at food banks, next to images of perishable food being demolished en masse.

And in other news…

  • Two McDonald’s workers have filed a class-action lawsuit against McDonald’s, suing on behalf of employees who have experienced sexual harassment and retaliation at company-owned restaurants in Florida. [NRN]
  • GrubHub, DoorDash, Postmates, and Uber Eats were also hit with a lawsuit on Monday, accusing the delivery apps of violating antitrust law and offering restaurants a “devil’s choice” by contractually requiring restaurants to charge delivery customers and dine-in customers the same price, thereby driving restaurants to up their prices across the board. [Reuters]
  • How Native Americans are dealing with a pandemic that has, among other things, only made it even harder to access food. [NYT]
  • Amazon is testing a “dark store” concept, in which the store is dedicated exclusively to online delivery and pickup. [HNGRY]
  • As the number of people cooking at home increases, so do the number of kitchen fires. [Vice]
  • Lord please take me to Flavortown Island:

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