Is a Wave of Hunger Approaching?
At no other time in America’s recent history has the issue of food security been such a major concern.
Has the pandemic caused you to question how you, your family, or society at large would cope with a severe food shortage? Many in the developed world are now asking such questions.
Americans have seen many changes to their lifestyle, but one stands out in particular: how, what and even when, they eat. In the Western world, food shortages don’t tend to be a subject on the average person’s mind. During coronavirus, that changed. Many began to wonder if they would be able to feed themselves and their families. Some turned to food banks; others stockpiled supplies. People who ate out regularly were forced to cook their own meals.
“Coupled with the run on toilet paper that led to severe shortages, recent events are leading Americans to wonder if the nation’s food supply is secure,” wrote Niv Elis at the Hill (April 22).
On April 14, Foreign Policy wrote that while many have been focused on the medical aspects of the disease, “[f]ar less attention has been paid to another pandemic-driven shortage lurking over the horizon: food.” As leaders discuss the probability of a second coronavirus wave, few are discussing a possible “third wave” of widespread hunger.
Media coverage of the food shortages during coronavirus raises a vital question: Will famine ever come to America? To Britain, Canada, Australia, or Europe?
Many articles that acknowledge the potential for a widespread food shortage suggest stockpiling food, learning to garden, and a host of other preparatory measures. While these can be wise in certain circumstances, they don’t get to the root of why Americans should be concerned—or how these shortages point to an imminent change to the world’s agricultural practices.
What Went Wrong?
The virus has provided telling insight into how a future food shortage could happen.
Shortages during coronavirus, for the most part, have been localized and minor compared to a famine in a Third World country. But they were costly to the food industry, and more importantly, they exposed key weaknesses in the supply chain that a greater future shock could affect.
In 2019, 51 cents of every dollar Americans spent on food went toward fast-food purchases. The fast-food market in America produces $60 billion monthly. Coronavirus shut down nearly all of this market, which producers were supplying with bulk quantities of food. After the shutdown, that food would either have to be repackaged in smaller quantities, stored for as long as possible, or where necessary, discarded.
Much of the shortage during coronavirus revolved around practical matters of storing and transporting perishable food. The main issue all along has not been lack of food production, but gaps in the supply chain. Fruits and vegetables were still growing, cows were still producing milk, and chickens were still laying eggs. The problem was finding enough workers to harvest and bring it to market.
Supply chains tend to be rigid. That means a farm or wholesaler that usually packages its products in bulk, such as for institutions or restaurants, cannot easily switch to packaging food in smaller containers appropriate for retail stores. When lockdowns began, demand from restaurants dropped to nearly zero, whereas grocery stores saw an increase in demand. Producers that usually supplied restaurants and institutions suddenly had nowhere to send their products, and began to lose money.
Why can’t a producer redirect its food to retail outlets instead? In reality, this is a technical and costly process.
Farms and wholesale companies have equipment designed to package their products in bulk format for restaurants. For example, a milk producer will have equipment designed to fill five gallon jugs; a potato farm will have machines to fill large sacks for truck transport, not individual bags; an abattoir will produce one cut of meat for restaurants and another, smaller one for retail. Changing any of these process from bulk format to retail would require changing the equipment itself.
Plants can be retooled, or have their machinery modified to fit these changing needs. Often though, this requires completely new machinery. Then there are the bureaucratic hurdles. Food deemed fit for institutional and restaurant use needs to meet different standards than food going directly to grocery stores. Otherwise, the company may face fines.
With the future so uncertain, many companies have decided not to make these costly modifications, preferring to wait out the rough times.
“If this is going to be the new normal forever, they would go ahead and make the changes and everything would be fine eventually,” John Rieley, a former Sysco food company sales representative, told the Federalist. The problem is, “the governors keep saying, ‘two more weeks, just two more weeks, just two more weeks.’ They’re not going to put the investment into retooling the plants and then just have to change it back.”
Getting the necessary help for harvesting is another roadblock. While the harvest of soybeans and wheat is highly mechanized, harvests of vegetables and fruit are labor-intensive, requiring workers to be physically present to pick the product. “Foreign laborers are the backbone of U.S. agriculture, accounting for roughly 70 percent of field hands and nearly 30 percent of meat and poultry workers in recent years,” wrote the Council on Foreign Relations. The virus caused a shortage of these foreign workers in America due to restrictions on travel.
Less Bread for the Buck
The inability to sell otherwise edible food has led to severe losses for farmers, who have been forced to euthanize animals and dispose of eggs, milk and vegetables they cannot sell. The Hill quoted a representative of the Produce Marketing Association, saying that $5 billion of fresh fruits and vegetables have already gone to waste. This number keeps growing every day that restaurants remain closed and farmers fail to find alternative buyers.
Consumers now feel the results. Grocery prices increased by 2.6 percent over April, the biggest jump since February 1974, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Meats, poultry, fish and eggs as a category were affected the most, rising by 4.3 percent during April.
Coming out of coronavirus, farmers and wholesale companies will be eager to regain as much lost revenue as possible. Prices could remain high for a long time after the lockdowns end. MarketWatch reported that the foodservice industry, which is collectively worth about $300 billion, experienced a sales decline of 60 percent to 90 percent during coronavirus. In the short term, this shortfall can only be made up for by raising prices.
Rance Miles, chief financial officer of the Quality Milk Sales group, told the Federalist that the supply chain mismatch would result in higher food prices; for every 1 percent decline in the supply of dairy, there will be a 10 percent rise in prices. “I think we’re going to see some inflation here that nobody has really anticipated,” he stated.
The story is similar for meat production. Though meat can be frozen and preserved for longer than dairy, animals are being culled at high rates, setting back farms financially. House Agriculture Chair Collin Peterson estimated that 60,000 to 70,000 pigs a day will need to be euthanized.
Many probably do not realize how close America came to serious shortages of meat. Coronavirus is not a foodborne illness. But what if a future disease forces meat plants to shut down? If they did, America has only about two weeks’ worth of meat in storage. After that, consumers would be on their own.
Tyson Foods, a major meat supplier in the U.S., said that the challenges posed by coronavirus are “breaking” the supply of meat. Had the disease caused even slightly more disruption, and had plants not been kept open by executive order, there likely would have been greater shortages in the U.S. and throughout the world. The U.S., Canada and Brazil account for 65 percent of global meat shipments. Brazil is the world’s number one exporter of chicken and beef.
“Millions of pounds of meat will disappear,” warned Tyson Foods in a blog post. A number of meat plants did shut down, because authorities feared workers would be infected. Shutting down even a limited number of these plants brought America “dangerously close” to a meat shortage, wrote Bloomberg.
The shutdowns were severe enough that the U.S. government decided to set up a center for “depopulation and disposal” of animals.
Coronavirus may go away, but damage to the agricultural sector of many nations will remain much longer. “For consumers, this means less meat at the grocery store. For many farmers, this means the prospect of financial ruin,” wrote Axios.
The Resurgence of Hunger
On May 1, the Nation published an article claiming that a “global food crisis” will be the “third wave” of coronavirus. It showed that many in the developing world are already suffering. “We are starving,” one Bangladeshi garment factory worker told afp. “If we stay at home, we may save ourselves from the virus. But who will save us from starvation?” Similarly, there have been riots in Kenya and other nations where the lockdown has halted daily work for millions.
While there may not be an immediate threat of famine, the United Nations has estimated that the coronavirus could cause “multiple famines of biblical proportions” in a few months if nobody takes action. Currently, an estimated 821 million go hungry every night, 135 million face “crisis levels of hunger or worse,” and coronavirus threatens to put a further 130 million to the “brink of starvation” by the end of 2020.
This problem isn’t confined to the developing world. In San Antonio, Texas, 10,000 families showed up to a food bank on April 9. Normally, only 300 to 400 show up over an entire week. In Massachusetts, one food bank’s distributions increased by 849 percent in March compared to the same month last year. Throughout the U.S., food banks and charities have been overwhelmed. “The only thing we can do is ration and give families less,” one food bank told the Guardian on April 17.
Generally, the media report that famine and hunger are being eradicated. In the West, it is generally viewed as a scourge of the past, not a present threat. Today, there are more food banks and charities in existence globally than at any time in world history.
In 2018, humanitarian expert Alex de Waal published Mass Starvation: The History and Future of Famine. He had hoped his research would show famine in decline. As it turned out, the opposite was true. Starting in late 2016, famine began making a comeback.
This is certainly a reality in war-torn countries. However, the developed nations are at greater risk of food shortages than most realize. The recent coronavirus crisis makes this clearer than ever.
Could this really happen in the developed world? So far, it has been avoided. But coronavirus exposes the weakness of the developed world’s food supply.
What If This Happens Again?
Many religious people are asking if coronavirus, food shortages and famines fit in with prophesied diseases and plagues discussed in the book of Revelation.
One of them, evangelist Michael Snyder, wrote an article for Technical Politics, in which he noted that locust swarms, unusual storms and an increase in diseases have all marked the beginning of 2020. “So far in 2020, it has just been one thing after another, and many are speculating about what could be ahead if events continue to escalate,” he remarked.
People are taking notice of an increasingly dangerous world. Some understand that disease pandemics are prophesied to increase. But amid all the speculation, fear and questions, the Bible itself is rarely quoted and even more rarely looked to as a source of truth.
The coronavirus is not one of the seven prophesied plagues specifically mentioned in the book of Revelation. However, the Bible does say that diseases will get worse. It says that diseases like coronavirus, of which there will be more, are a prelude to far deadlier disease and violence soon to come.
This forecast is scriptural: “For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in divers places. All these are the beginning of sorrows” (Matthew 24:7-8).
The Bible says that famines and disease will increase, but notice—it says the troubles of today are only a prelude to much worse suffering to come. Revelation 6:5-6 describe, in symbols, suffering brought by famine, which will cause worldwide rationing to take place. Our free booklet The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse states, “A great famine, like none before it or ever again, will strike this Earth with frightening force and fury. This time, instead of only affecting war-torn regions or the Third World, it will affect the First World nations ….”
Coronavirus has shown many people how vulnerable the supply chain of even a rich, developed nation can be. What happens when greater problems, such as wars, disrupt food supplies? The Bible says that these will come, and when they do, they will make coronavirus look miniscule by comparison.
You can prove that these prophecies are for today. The Bible identifies the American and British peoples as the descendants of ancient Israel. We explain this thoroughly in our free book The United States and Britain in Prophecy, by Herbert W. Armstrong. Most prophecies recorded in the Bible are actually written for today and directed at the world’s greatest superpower.
One such prophecy is found in the book of Ezekiel. In Ezekiel: The End-Time Prophet, Trumpet editor in chief Gerald Flurry writes:
Ezekiel 4 describes the Tribulation as actually beginning with an economic siege against these nations. One third of the people inside that siege against Israel will die! …
Notice what God commanded His Prophet Ezekiel to do: “Lie thou also upon thy left side, and lay the iniquity of the house of Israel [primarily America and Britain] upon it: according to the number of the days that thou shalt lie upon it thou shalt bear their iniquity. For I have laid upon thee the years of their iniquity, according to the number of the days, three hundred and ninety days: so shalt thou bear the iniquity of the house of Israel” (Ezekiel 4:4-5).
This 13-month siege is described further in Ezekiel 5, which reveals that it will involve famine and rioting: “A third part of thee shall die with the pestilence, and with famine shall they be consumed in the midst of thee …” (verse 12). The word for “pestilence” here means burning. As our booklet details, this word actually denotes violence and riots from societal tensions—in addition to a shortage of basic necessities.
Deuteronomy 28:52 describes this siege, stating “and he shall besiege thee in all thy gates, until thy high and fenced walls come down, wherein thou trustedst, throughout all thy land: and he shall besiege thee in all thy gates throughout all thy land, which the Lord thy God hath given thee.” This verse is discussing trade embargoes or blockades by foreign enemies. The coronavirus exposed how vulnerable America’s food supply chain is, even in peacetime. During a major war, the breakdown would be many times worse.
The Bible says that this will soon be a reality. Isaiah 23 describes a trade alliance between Asia and Europe. “The United States and Britain are going to be left out in the cold as two gigantic trade blocs, Europe and Asia, mesh together and begin calling the shots in world commerce. These nations of Israel are going to be literally besieged—economically frozen out of world trade!” writes Mr. Flurry.
How bad will it get? If there is any doubt that these are not prophecies to take lightly, Ezekiel 5 also states that “the fathers shall eat the sons in the midst of thee, and the sons shall eat their fathers; and I will execute judgments in thee, and the whole remnant of thee will I scatter into all the winds” (verse 10). This is the horrific level famines are prophesied to reach—not only for the Third World, but for the prosperous First World as well.
There is good news amid all this. You, individually, can escape and be protected from all the suffering—not by stockpiling food, but by turning to the God behind these prophecies, who sent this advance warning for mankind. Our free book on Ezekiel shows you how.
The same scriptures that foretell this suffering also point to the best news possible: Christ’s return and the end to famine, forever. “Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that the plowman shall overtake the reaper, and the treader of grapes him that soweth seed; and the mountains shall drop sweet wine, and all the hills shall melt” (Amos 9:13). The time is coming, just as surely as the famines, when agricultural abundance will be commonplace and hunger will be history.