United Nations Warns COVID-19 Measures May Lead to Food Shortages

The officials in each country have to take measures to minimize the potential impact or unintended consequences on global trade and food security, as they move to halt the accelerating COVID-19 pandemic. Uncertainty about food availability can spark a wave of export restrictions, creating a shortage on the global market, according to a common statement from Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, QU Dongyu and Roberto Azevedo, directors-General of WHO, FAO and WTO (pictured), specialized agencies in the United Nations. Millions of people around the world depend on international trade for their food security and livelihoods, the officials say. 

When acting to protect the health and well-being of their citizens, countries should ensure that any trade-related measures do not disrupt the food supply chain. Such disruptions, including hampering the movement of agricultural and food industry workers and extending border delays for food containers, result in the spoilage of perishables and increasing food waste. Food trade restrictions could also be linked to unjustified concerns on food safety. If such a scenario were to materialize, it would disrupt the food supply chain, with particularly pronounced consequences for the most vulnerable and food-insecure populations, the organizations from the UN highlighted. 

Uncertainty about food availability can spark a wave of export restrictions, creating a shortage on the global market. Such reactions can alter the balance between food supply and demand, resulting in price spikes and increased price volatility. “We learned from previous crises that such measures are particularly damaging for low-income, food-deficit countries and to the efforts of humanitarian organizations to procure food for those in desperate need. We must prevent the repeat of such damaging measures. It is at times like this that more, not less, international cooperation becomes vital,” the officials from the UN said. “We must ensure that our response to COVID-19 does not unintentionally create unwarranted shortages of essential items and exacerbate hunger and malnutrition,” they underlined.

Amid the COVID-19 lockdowns, every effort must be made to ensure that trade flows as freely as possible, especially to avoid food shortage. Similarly, it is also critical that food producers and food workers at processing and retail level are protected to minimize the spread of the disease within this sector and maintain food supply chains, the joint announcement said. Consumers, in particular the most vulnerable, must continue to be able to access food within their communities under strict safety requirements. 

“We must also ensure that information on food-related trade measures, levels of food production, consumption and stocks, as well as on food prices, is available to all in real-time. This reduces uncertainty and allows producers, consumers, and traders to make informed decisions. Above all, it helps contain ‘panic buying’ and the hoarding of food and other essential items,” they added.

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