Arquivo da tag: Cadeia mundial de circulação de bens

U.S. Food Supply Chain Is Strained as Virus Spreads (New York Times)

By Michael Corkery and David Yaffe-Bellany, April 14, 2020

Disruptions are expected in the production and distribution of products like pork, and localized shortages could occur.

As workers in the industry fall ill, food shortages that started with consumer hoarding could reduce choices for weeks. 
Credit…Tamir Kalifa for The New York Times

The nation’s food supply chain is showing signs of strain, as increasing numbers of workers are falling ill with the coronavirus in meat processing plants, warehouses and grocery stores.

The spread of the virus through the food and grocery industry is expected to cause disruptions in production and distribution of certain products like pork, industry executives, labor unions and analysts have warned in recent days. The issues follow nearly a month of stockpiling of food and other essentials by panicked shoppers that have tested supply networks as never before.

Industry leaders and observers acknowledge the shortages could increase, but they insist it is more of an inconvenience than a major problem. People will have enough to eat; they just may not have the usual variety. The food supply remains robust, they say, with hundreds of millions of pounds of meat in cold storage. There is no evidence that the coronavirus can be transmitted through food or its packaging, according to the Department of Agriculture.

Still, the illnesses have the potential to cause shortages lasting weeks for a few products, creating further anxiety for Americans already shaken by how difficult it can be to find high-demand staples like flour and eggs.

“You might not get what you want when you want it,” said Christine McCracken, a meat industry analyst at Rabobank in New York. “Consumers like to have a lot of different choices, and the reality is in the short term, we just don’t have the labor to make that happen.”

In one of the most significant signs of pressure since the pandemic began, Smithfield Foods became the latest company to announce a shutdown, announcing Sunday that it would close its processing plant in Sioux Falls, S.D., after 230 workers became ill with the virus. The plant produces more than 5 percent of the nation’s pork.

“The closure of this facility, combined with a growing list of other protein plants that have shuttered across our industry, is pushing our country perilously close to the edge in terms of our meat supply,” Smithfield’s chief executive, Kenneth M. Sullivan, said in a statement.

As of Saturday, the plant’s Covid-19 cases were more than half South Dakota’s active total, Gov. Kristi Noem said. She called the outbreak an “alarming statistic” and asked Smithfield to shut down the facility for two weeks.

The problems at the Sioux Falls pork plant show the food processing industry’s vulnerability to an outbreak. Employees often work shoulder to shoulder, and some companies have granted sick leave only to employees who test positive for the coronavirus. That potentially leaves on the job thousands of other infected workers who haven’t been tested, hastening the infection’s spread.

The plant that Smithfield Foods is shutting down in Sioux Falls, S.D., produces more than 5 percent of the nation’s pork. 
Credit…Stephen Groves/Associated Press

Other major processors have had to shut down plants. JBS USA, the world’s largest meat processor, closed a plant in Pennsylvania for two weeks. Last week, Cargill closed a facility in Pennsylvania where it produces steaks, ground beef and ground pork. And Tyson halted operations at a pork plant in Iowa after more than two dozen workers tested positive.

“Labor is going to be the biggest thing that can break,” said Karan Girotra, a supply-chain expert at Cornell University. “If large numbers of people start getting sick in rural America, all bets are off.”

At the other end of the supply chain, grocery stores are also dealing with increasing illnesses among workers, as well as absences by those afraid to go in to work.

Even as company officials called them “essential” for their role in feeding the country, grocery store workers went weeks without being provided with face masks and other protective gear.

Some food companies have been slow to provide the gear, while others tried but found that their orders were rerouted to the health care industry, where there is also a dire need. A few grocery workers say they are still waiting to be supplied with masks, despite federal health guidelines that recommend everybody wear one in public.

The workers also face a threat from their exposure to customers, who continue to stock up on food. Some, the workers say, don’t wear masks and fail to keep an adequate level of social distancing.

There are no government agencies tracking illnesses among food industry workers nationwide. The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, which represents 1.3 million grocery store, food processing and meat packing employees, said on Monday that at least 1,500 of its members had been infected with the virus and that 30 of them have died.

“The Covid-19 pandemic represents a clear and present danger to our workers and our nation’s food supply,” U.F.C.W. International’s president, Marc Perrone, said.

Even before the illnesses began to spread through the industry, the supply chain had been tested intensely. Truck drivers, who were already scarce before the pandemic, couldn’t make deliveries fast enough. Hot dog factories and dairy farmers ramped up production in response to waves of panic buying.

Those surges continue to take a toll on a system that had been built largely for customers seeking speed and convenience, not stockpiling. On Sunday, Amazon said it was getting new customers seeking online grocery delivery from Whole Foods and Amazon Fresh to effectively sign up for a wait list. It’s an unusual concession for an internet giant that is used to unimpeded growth.

On some days, shoppers still cannot find flour, eggs or other staples that are in high demand. Retailers and manufacturers have offered reassurances that these shortages are temporary and merely reflect a distribution and production network that cannot work fast enough.

The parts of the food system that will suffer the worst disruptions are the ones dependent on heavily consolidated supply chains that employ large numbers of people, Mr. Girotra of Cornell said.

The Smithfield plant in South Dakota is a stark example of a vulnerable link in the chain. On its own, it produces 130 million servings of food per week. It employs 3,700 people, many of whom work closely together deboning and cutting up meat.

Last week, South Dakota officials watched the number of cases there increase at an alarming rate. Smithfield said it would shut down the building for three days to sanitize the facility. But as the number of Covid-19 cases surpassed more than half of all cases in Sioux Falls and the surrounding county, state officials asked the plant to close for 14 days “to protect the employees, the families, the Sioux Falls community and the people of South Dakota,” Governor Noem said on Saturday.

The next day, Smithfield said it would shut down “until further notice” and pay its workers for the next two weeks.

The state has not reported outbreaks at any other meat processing plants. South Dakota officials said Smithfield had ramped up testing of its employees, suggesting that this could have resulted in rates that were higher than in other populations in the state.

Some big food producers are coming up with contingency plans. Absences have risen at some plants run by the Mississippi-based chicken processor Sanderson Farms, though not at a level that would significantly disrupt production, said Mike Cockrell, the company’s chief financial officer.

The company has explored alternatives in case large numbers of its workers become sick. Much of the labor at a processing plant involves deboning chicken and dividing it into cuts like breasts, thighs and wings. A reduced staff could continue packaging chicken but skip the labor-intensive process of dividing up the birds.

“You could change your mix and produce a less consumer-friendly product with fewer people,” Mr. Cockrell said. “That’s not a disaster.”

At the grocery store, he said, “you would see a whole chicken, and you could take that chicken home.”

In the grocery industry, many of the solutions to keeping the supply chain functioning are also simple, workers say. The U.F.C.W., for instance, is urging states to mandate that shoppers wear masks and appealing to customers to “shop smart” by refraining from touching products, using a shopping list and making fewer trips to the store.

Aaron Squeo, who works in the meat department at a Kroger supermarket in Madison Heights, Mich., said customers needed to practice better social distancing.

“I have seen whole families out like it’s an outing,” Mr. Squeo said. “This can’t continue like this. We need to truly change how we shop. Our lives are at stake.”

Julie Creswell contributed reporting.

How Will The COVID-19 Pandemic Affect Global Food Supplies? Here’s What We Know (RFE/RL)

A Pakistani worker in Karachi sorts wheat grain on April 7 to make flour to keep people fed during the country's lockdown amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
A Pakistani worker in Karachi sorts wheat grain on April 7 to make flour to keep people fed during the country’s lockdown amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Photo: Shahzaib Akber (EPA-EFE)

Original article

April 09, 2020 14:55 GMT

By RFE/RL

That strawberry you’re eating while self-isolating from the coronavirus?

Chances are it came from a farm. Or it may have come from a large agricultural operation many, many kilometers away from your home, harvested by hand, possibly by migrant workers brought in from other towns, cities, or even countries.

But can that system continue to bring you strawberries as the global coronavirus pandemic continues? Or bread? Pasta? Cooking oil?

The coronavirus has already sent the global economy into a tailspin, with tens of millions of people being put out of work, as factories from Wuhan to Bavaria to Michigan suspend operations.

What does this mean for the food we eat?

If you live in a rural setting in a temperate climate where the growing season is under way, you might be preparing to eat produce from your backyard or your dacha.

But if you live in a city – as more than half the world’s population does — chances are you rely on the global food supply chain to make sure your bread and milk, or noodles and bananas, are in stock at the market.

What happens when the people picking our fruits and vegetables get sick or have to quarantine? What happens when the packers who make sure the potatoes and onions are boxed and put onto trucks to be driven to towns and cities can’t work? What happens when wheat can’t be milled or shipped to bakeries to be baked into bread and sold at markets and food stores?

Could we be facing global food shortages in the coming months?

A man stands in front of empty shelves in a supermarket in Moscow on March 17.
A man stands in front of empty shelves in a supermarket in Moscow on March 17.

“Massive disruptions to global food supply system will result from the pandemic,” Chris Elliot, a professor at Queen’s University in Belfast, wrote in a post on Twitter.

Here’s what we know about how the coronavirus is affecting food supplies.

What’s Going On?

In mid-March, the pandemic was accelerating in most countries, even as a handful began to show signs of “flattening the curve” – the term used for slowing the rate of new infections.

But the stress on the global food supply system was already clear.

“A protracted pandemic crisis could quickly put a strain on the food supply chains, a complex web of interactions involving farmers, agricultural inputs, processing plants, shipping, retailers, and more,” Maximo Cullen, the chief economist for the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization, warned in a paper.

Panic buying and hoarding in some places added to worries that retailers and wholesalers whose inventories might be small already could be wiped out.

By early April, the World Food Program – another UN agency – tried to reassure nervous consumers.

“Global markets for basic cereals are well-supplied and prices generally low,” the program said in a report released on April 3.

“Disruptions are so far minimal; food supply is adequate, and markets are relatively stable,” spokeswoman Elizabeth Byrs was quoted as saying.

“But we may soon expect to see disruptions in food supply chains” if big importers lose confidence in the reliable flow of basic food commodities, she said.

Workers load a truck with food aid in Bydgoszcz, Poland, on April 8. Two Polish companies, Polski Cukier and Polskie Przetwory, donated food products to help those most in need because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Workers load a truck with food aid in Bydgoszcz, Poland, on April 8. Two Polish companies, Polski Cukier and Polskie Przetwory, donated food products to help those most in need because of the coronavirus pandemic.

For industrialized nations, whose food supply chains were already undergoing a shift due to changing consumer habits and tastes, that bodes for more uncertainty.

“We’re talking about a radical change to a food chain that was already going through a radical chain,” James Tillotson, a retired professor of food policy and international business at the Friedman School at Tufts University in the United States, told RFE/RL.

Who’s Most At Risk?

For major industrial nations, whose populations tend to be particularly concentrated in urban and suburban centers, the food supply chains are longer, more complex, and, possibly, more vulnerable.

For less industrial, more rural, and agrarian economies, supply chains tend to be shorter and simpler. If you’re not getting your eggs and milk from chickens and cows and goats in your backyard, for example, then you might be getting them from the farmers in the next village over.

Other commodity goods — such as wheat, corn, or soybeans — are sold and shipped in bulk, often over long distances. That means there are more points where the supply chain can be disrupted.

Add to that the fear factor: Consumers fearing the possibility of shortages rush to buy more than they otherwise would, thus causing the shortages they’d feared. Some food markets in Moscow, for example, reported shelves being emptied of ready-to-eat buckwheat.

Grain Drain: Coronavirus Concerns Drive Russians To Buy Up Buckwheat

That’s led some countries to cut back on food exports in a bid to ensure they have enough food for their own citizens.

Vietnam, a major exporter of rice, has suspended exports of that product and other commodities. India, a major producer of rice, like Vietnam, has also suspended exports.

In Kazakhstan, one of the world’s major exporters of wheat, the government has restricted exports of that commodity. Earlier, the government had suspended exports of other goods like onions, sugar, sunflower oil, and even buckwheat – a grain that has emotional resonance for many older Kazakhs and Russians as a way to ward off hunger.

Last month, Russia, the world’s largest wheat producer, suspended exports of processed grains such as buckwheat, rice, and oat flakes.

Restricted supplies have pushed up prices, not only locally but globally in some cases.

In the Boston area, for example, the price of a dozen eggs has tripled in recent weeks, Tillotson said.

Higher prices and supply restrictions have created opportunities for black marketeers. Police in Kyrgyzstan this week detained shipments of milled wheat flour that was being smuggled out of the country in sacks labeled “cement.”

In an unusual public appeal, activists, academics, and a group of executives for some of the world’s biggest food-processing companies warned on April 9 that the number of people going hungry around the world could increase dramatically in the coming months.

Sacks of flour stacked at a storage facility in Novosibirsk, Russia. Production of bread, grains, and pasta has been boosted in the Novosibirsk region due to increased demand amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Sacks of flour stacked at a storage facility in Novosibirsk, Russia. Production of bread, grains, and pasta has been boosted in the Novosibirsk region due to increased demand amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

“There could not be a more important time in which to keep trade flows open and predictable,” according to the letter addressed to world leaders.

The letter urged food exporters to keep supplying international markets, and also called for supporting populations most at risk of hunger, as well as investing in local production.

Who’s Harvesting?

The process of picking crops and packing them for shipment is itself under stress, experts warned, as field workers struggle to get protective equipment to shield them from coronavirus infection or as workers are prevented from traveling to farms by lockdowns and travel restrictions.

“The issue of the health of the farm labor force as well as labor availability is one of the biggest challenges to production,” risk analyst group Fitch Solutions said in a March 25 report.

In the United States, migrant workers comprise the bulk of farm and agriculture labor. And in California, one of the leading U.S. states for producing food and agricultural goods, state officials have imposed a stay-at-home order to minimize people moving around and transmitting infection. That has affected farm labor.

The same holds true across Europe, where farms are doing spring planting and struggling to find workers to pick crops like strawberries and lettuce after border closures among European Union member choked off the flow of foreign laborers.

“At this point, it concerns vegetable growers who need manpower, both indoors and outdoors, in terms of sowing and doing spring work,” Stojan Marinkovic, president of the Republika Srpska Farmers’ Association, told RFE/RL’s Balkan Service. “We are aware that this is a large group of people working in one place, so they have to take care of protecting both themselves and the people around them.”

Sooner or later, however, coronavirus infections will fall, governments will ease restrictions on travel and retailers, and supply chains will revert to normal, experts predict.

At that point, people may face a different problem: what to do with all the extra goods in their larders, cupboards, and freezers.

“If people are buying more goods now, it is not necessarily because they are using more — they are stockpiling. When things get back to normal, consumers will have a lot of canned soup and toilet paper at home and won’t need to buy more,” Goker Aydin, an operations management expert at the Carey Business School at Johns Hopkins University, said.

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