The Food Supply System Conundrum
There’s been a lot of news lately about shortages of meat and milk in the grocery stores. This is not due to a lack of meat or milk, but a disruption to the food supply chain. Over 50 percent of our food is spent on purchases by restaurants and cafeterias, therefore with all of the schools and restaurants closed, the products destined for those outlets have no place to go. The way that meat and milk products are packaged for grocery stores is different than how they are packaged for restaurants and schools. Processors don’t have the capability to repackage wholesale products for retail because it requires a different type of equipment. Meanwhile farmers are milking just as many cows and raising the same amount of livestock, so now they have surpluses of meat and milk. Food banks are unable to accept the raw milk and meat products because they do not have the ability to process and package them.
The other issue with the food supply system is the number of meat plants that were forced to close due to COVID-19. The livestock and poultry that is processed in the U.S. is done by a small number of large meat processing plants, therefore when one shuts down, the entire food system is impacted. The plants are processing fewer animals and birds, so fewer products are available for retail markets. At the same time, all of the livestock and poultry raised by the farmers that was destined for the plants will not be able to be processed and distributed. Until restaurants and schools reopen, there will be disruptions to the food supply system that cannot be solved overnight. In the meantime, some options for consumers are to purchase locally produced meat and milk or learn to raise your own poultry, rabbits and livestock.