How Coronavirus Has Upended the U.S. Food System

Johnny Lopez
June 30, 2020 - 1:53 pm

Empty stores shelves and meat shortages are a couple of ways the coronavirus pandemic has altered the food supply chain in the United States.

Our intricate system of supply and demand has been completely thrown out of whack by the ongoing spread of COVID-19.

The ramifications of the virus have left farmers, meat processors, grocers and restaurant owners scrambling to shore up the nation’s food supply, reported the LA Times.

With the closure of restaurants, schools, catering services and other businesses, farmers suddenly saw their crops, which were planted months in advance, begin to pile up and spoil. Even though customers were stockpiling goods in supermarkets, it wasn’t enough to match the normal demand from restaurants and other commercial businesses, according to the outlet.

Billions of dollars in produce wound up going to waste and now farmers in places like California and Arizona are rethinking their strategy to plant tems shoppers want over those that a chef might prefer.

At the end of April, supermarket executives warned that a meat shortage could hit its peak this month, with many stores facing elevated prices and empty shelves. Dozens of plant closures due to coronavirus outbreaks have led to dwindling supplies of steaks, chicken breasts, pork chops, and cold cuts. This week, even Wendy’s started pulling burgers off its menu at certain locations due to beef shortages.

While President Donald Trump ordered plants to stay open during the pandemic to prevent a nationwide meat shortage, it may not be enough as more outbreaks at plants have been reported.

During the first weeks of the pandemic, shelves were cleared as customers raced to stock up on items by buying up to two month’s worth of groceries. At one point there weren’t even enough trucks to handle the demand for goods.

In recent weeks, demand has leveled off and stores have been trying to keep shelves stocked, despite more and more workers becoming ill.

As restaurants and other businesses slowly begin to reopen, there is hope for supply and demand to reach a state of equilibrium again.

Going forward, some experts even see the potential for some good to come out of all this as new modes of communication are being created between producers and suppliers and those most in need.

“The whole world is trying to figure out how to rebalance the supply and demand,” said Chris Tang, a supply chain expert and professor at the UCLA Anderson School of Management. “We have so much food being wasted. The question is, how do you reduce the food waste so that the food will actually get to the people in need?”

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