NEW YORK – The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization warned of global food shortages caused by measures to stem the spread of the coronavirus.
“The worst that can happen is that governments restrict the flow of food,” Maximo Torero, Chief Economist of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, told The Guardian.
Harvests have been good and staple crops remain in demand, but a shortage of field workers brought on by the pandemic and a move towards protectionism — tariffs and export bans — could lead to problems in the coming weeks, Torero said.
“All measures against free trade will be counterproductive. Now is not the time for restrictions or putting in place trade barriers. Now is the time to protect the flow of food around the world,” Torero added.
Some countries have begun to protect their food supplies by restricting exports, which Torero reportedly stated could lead to an overall decrease in trade and a subsequent decline in food production.
“Trade barriers will create extreme volatility,” warned Torero, noting, “[They] will make the situation worse. That’s what we observe in food crises.”
Another measure that could threaten the world’s food supply is that nations have issued stay-at-home orders at varying levels of enforcement. If agriculture workers are legally unable to harvest crops, it could cause a lapse in food flow.
“Coronavirus is affecting the labor force and the logistical problems are becoming very important,” said Torero, adding, “We need to have policies in place so the labor force can keep doing their job. Protect people too, but we need the labor force. Major countries have yet to implement these sorts of policies to ensure that food can keep moving.”
The report from The Guardian comes as grocery stores in the US have been bombarded with customers racing to stock up on produce, non-perishable items and paper goods amid the coronavirus outbreak. However, American food supply experts, including the Department of Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, have warned that Americans should not be concerned about immediate food shortages.
“This is a demand issue, not a supply issue,” Heather Garlich, vice president of media and public relations at FMI, the food industry association formerly known as the Food Marketing Institute, told Politico, noting, “The supply chain isn’t broken. The warehouses are pushing out as much inventory as possible in a 24-hour period.”