Impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the North American meat industry
Most of the articles concerning the disruptions to the processing stage of the food value chains around the world focused on the challenges posed by the coronavirus pandemic to the North American meat industry. More specifically, animals in slaughterhouses are stored in refrigerated environments with recirculating air, which offer the coronavirus the perfect conditions to spread easily among the workers: this determined that around 25,000 meatpacking workers were infected with the coronavirus in the United States, causing a meat shortage and price increases.
Ripple effects of the general meat shortage included the fact that millions of pigs in the plants gained too much weight and were eventually euthanized by farmers, a decrease in livestock prices, parallel to the increase in retail prices, and a growing demand for plant-based meat. The United States’ government responded to the meat crisis by establishing a Coronavirus Food Assistance Program and by introducing the Coronavirus Aid, Recovery and Economic Stability (CARES) Act, which provided additional funding for agriculture and meat producers.
Disruptions within the global food commodity trade
The imbalance within the number of news related to the disruptions along the export phase of the food supply chain in favour of developing countries is due to the number of articles concerning banana exports (mainly from Ecuador and the Philippines), soybean exports from Brazil to China, and rice exports from India, Thailand and Vietnam.
Ecuador, one of the world’s top banana producers and exporters, saw the price of the fruit increase while its demand dropped because most of the buyers are hotels and restaurants, which closed during the early phases of the coronavirus pandemic. Similar fate for the Philippines’ banana production, which witnessed China’s shift toward Vietnam and Cambodia, that reported fewer Covid-19 cases (China asked different exporters to sign an official document that guarantees that their food products are not contaminated with the coronavirus).
Soybean exports from Brazil to China have greatly driven deforestation in the Latin-American country, resulting in an increase of GHG emissions, while Thailand’s rice export prices decreased as a consequence of a stagnation in demand, but will remain higher than those of its competitors, Vietnam and India (until new supplies enter the market). Persistent rains in the Mekong Delta hampered the rice harvest in Vietnam, while India’s rice production was damaged by the locust swarms that migrated to Northern India (responsible for most of the rice produced in the country) through Pakistan.
Challenges faced by consumers
Another imbalance that is easy to notice is the one related to the effects of food value chain disruptions occurred between June and July 2020 on consumers in developing countries. More specifically, the articles that highlighted how consumers reacted to the disruptions generally concerned food security threats in developing countries (much more frequently mentioned), and changes in consumers’ preferences determined by the coronavirus pandemic in developed countries.
The pandemic worsened the pressing issue of food insecurity, which is projected to double by the World Food Programme, impacting around 265 million people in 2020. Some of the causes are connected to the effects of the pandemic, such as trade restrictions, which are particularly disruptive for the underprivileged citizens of food-importing countries, like Chad, Mozambique and Zimbabwe; some others are underlying factors, such as jihadist violence, the acceleration of global warming and political unrest in the Sahel.
In Pakistan, the negative impact of the pandemic blended with a lack of coordination between the country’s sub-national authorities and the poor performance of the district administrations, which resulted in a wheat shortage and a substantial price increase despite the government’s efforts to fulfil the domestic needs by importing wheat for an unlimited period.