News & Politics

Congressman Warns U.S. Could Be 'Weeks Away' From Food Shortages

(AP Photo/David Goldman, File )

Civilization truly is a fragile thing. The electrical grid is susceptible to sabotage, the internet is vulnerable to being shut down, and our transportation industry is highly sensitive to fuel availability and price.

And we’re never more than a few days away from anarchy when it comes to the food supply.

Rep. Thomas Massie is warning that the supply chain has been so disrupted by the coronavirus pandemic that we’ll be seeing food shortages sometime in the next few weeks.

Washington Examiner:

Kentucky Rep. Thomas Massie warned that the United States could face food shortages due to the “brittle” supply chain, bankrupting farmers and forcing them to euthanize livestock.

“We are weeks, not months, away from farmers euthanizing animals that would have been sold for meat/food. Also, fruits and vegetables are going to rot in the fields. A drastic change in policy this week could ameliorate this inevitability,” he tweeted Monday.

Massie shared an interview he did with a local radio show host for the tri-state area of Ohio, West Virginia, and Kentucky, during which he spoke about how the U.S. could see farmers going bankrupt and euthanizing cattle and hogs because meat processing plants have shuttered during the coronavirus pandemic.

Confirming Massie’s warning, Smithfield Foods, one of the nation’s largest pork producers, was forced to shutter their plants because so many employees were falling ill. The CEO of the company, Kenneth Sullivan, said in a statement, “It is impossible to keep our grocery stores stocked if our plants are not running.”

NPR:

Smithfield decided to close its plant in Sioux Falls, S.D., which provides 4% to 5% of the pork produced in the United States. The move came after South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem urged the company to “do more” to address the pandemic.

“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,” Sullivan said.

Smithfield is one of several meat-producing companies that have suspended or cut back on production in recent weeks.

Sullivan pointed out that it’s not just the meat-producing industry that’s at risk.

“These facility closures will also have severe, perhaps disastrous, repercussions for many in the supply chain, first and foremost our nation’s livestock farmers. These farmers have nowhere to send their animals,” he wrote.

Massie pointed out that livestock farmers are helpless in the face of powerful market forces.

“The shocking thing is that farmers are watching the value of their hogs and steers, cows, go down. In fact, they’re going to some of the lowest levels ever,” he said. “So the question is: Why is the price of meat going up in the supermarkets and the price of cattle going down at the auction ring? It’s because our supply line is brittle. You have to take cattle, steer, beef, whatever, hogs, to a processing plant. And these processing plants, like much of industrial America right now, are shutting down because of absentees, which has been exacerbated by the unemployment program the federal government has instituted — plus the $1,200 checks that are about to hit, plus some of the regulations that the states have put in place.”

Massie thinks the shortages at the grocery store of meat could lead to “civil unrest.” I think it would take a lot more than that to start people rioting, but it may come to that. Farmers haven’t yet begun to euthanize their livestock because they can’t sell them, but dairy farmers are dumping milk and egg farmers are breaking eggs. There is also a huge concern that because schools are not buying fresh produce due to closures, that farmers will be forced to plow under a large percentage of produce destined for grocery stores.

Shortages are coming. The question is how long will they last? Since food isn’t “manufactured” it will be several months before the supply chain is completely back to normal. Until then, hope for the best and plan for the worst.