Self-Inflicted Food Supply Disruptions

Empty shelves are seen in an organic supermarket in Manhattan on March 13, 2020 in New York City.

Self-Inflicted Food Supply Disruptions

Another example of how the cure is worse than the disease

When the coronavirus was first detected in North America in March 2020, our governments enacted draconian measures, such as lockdowns, closing non-essential businesses, and restricting travel. These measures immediately affected consumer spending and businesses, but the ripple effect continued through many long established supply chain networks. Little consideration was given at the time to the long-term effects of these policies.

“These measures will no doubt save lives that would have been cut short by this virus,” wrote Trumpet executive editor Stephen Flurry in a May-June 2020 article “The Cure Is Killing Us.” “But they are also coming at incalculable cost—to our economies, our livelihoods, our civil liberties and freedoms, our social cohesion, even mental and physical health. In many ways it appears the ramifications of the reaction to the coronavirus will dwarf and far outlive the virus itself.”

Two years later, the ramifications are evident: Inflation is at the highest levels in 40 years, and the consumer price index is at 9 percent, the highest since calculation began. Several major cities, including Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., are experiencing empty food shelves. This, however, is only the beginning.

Most economies in the world run on supply and demand. There is a direct relationship between the price of a product and how available it is on the market. Generally, the more in-demand an item is, the more expensive it is because it is less available. When there is a surplus, prices plummet. Government agencies and regulations add complexity to this general concept.

One of the most vital tasks of logistic networks and suppliers is to accurately forecast and prepare for consumer demand, maximizing their profits while supplying goods and services to people when they want them. When I worked in the fulfillment sector, forecasting customer demands dictated work hours, labor hires, freight capacity requirements; mistakes led to excess products, firing workers, and capacity issues that took months to fix.

This is true in the food supply chain. “Until early 2020, consumer spending on food in the United States had been remarkably stable, growing by around 4 percent over the previous five years,” according to a report at McKinsey & Company. “Total sales were roughly split evenly between retail outlets (such as grocery stores and supermarkets) and food-service companies (such as restaurants, hospitals and schools).”

As blogger Sundance explains at Conservative Treehouse, the supply chain is different for food-service companies and retail outlets. Before the pandemic, U.S. daily consumption generally stood at 60 percent at food-service companies and 40 percent in retail outlets. Retail outlets rely on supplies stored in frozen food warehouses (there are 800 in the U.S.). “This bulk food storage is how the total U.S. consumer food supply ensures consistent availability even with weather impacts,” Sundance wrote. “As a nation, we essentially stay one harvest ahead of demand by storing it and smoothing out any peak-valley shortfalls. There are a total of 175,642 commercial facilities involved in this supply chain across the country.”

Food-service companies have a separate supply chain that provides fresh food that is meant to be consumed quickly. Within this framework, farmers, manufacturers and retailers all have their own contracts with suppliers for certain amounts of production. On top of this, there are government regulations in how these different companies can operate. This is all based upon stability, on these food suppliers knowing how much food needs to go to restaurants, how much to supermarkets, how much needs to be frozen, and how much needs to be shipped as fresh produce. This fragile network relies on keeping this delicate balance.

What happens when most restaurants, hotels and schools are suddenly closed? What happens when there is a massive influx of people needing food from grocery stores?

“Since [the pandemic], physical distancing and associated lockdowns have dramatically reversed the trend of consumer spending on food,” wrote McKinsey & Company. “Consumers, forgoing public venues and eating at home, stocked up on groceries and supplies, boosting sales for [March 2020] by 29 percent over the prior year. Meanwhile, sales declined at restaurants, fast-food locations, coffee venues, and casual-dining locations by 27 percent.”

“As a result of the coronavirus mitigation effort, the ‘food away from home’ sector was reduced by 75 percent of daily food delivery operations,” Sundance continued. “However, people still needed to eat. That meant retail food outlets, grocers, saw sales increases of 25 to 50 percent, depending on the area.” Food products tailor-made for restaurants cannot easily be made available to a regular consumer. Most of the fresh products supplied to food-service companies had to be discarded.

The sudden loss of demand meant farmers had no one to buy their food. Farmers, those who supply all of our food, had to make tough decisions. “Already, farmers are taking extreme measures to deal with excess product—for example, breaking eggs, spilling milk, and plowing under crops,” wrote McKinsey & Company. “If farmers go a step further to reduce capacity, such as eliminating hens, culling herds, and selling farmland, they could reduce capacity for the long term. That could lead to product shortages and price increases for both food producers and consumers when downstream demand returns.” For example, during the height of the restrictions, more than 3 million gallons of milk were being dumped every day in America.

The McKinsey & Company report also highlighted that government restrictions specifically impacted agricultural workers. Only 30 percent of all farm workers in the U.S. are American born citizens, the rest are migratory workers, many on guest agricultural visas. The border restrictions curtailed the capacity for farms, even when demand returned.

Disrupting the harvest cycle is the single worst consequence of these policies. It can take years for farmers to change crops, find new clients for their produce, and readjust to customer needs.

This sudden rebalancing of how people buy their food has created chaos for food-service suppliers: Manufacturing lines meant for making large size portions for restaurants cannot easily be reconfigured for single servings. Any such change could impact revenue by 40 percent for up to five years as the new equipment pays itself off.

Government covid policies have caused many food production factories to be closed due to “breakouts” or the facility cannot accommodate government social distancing policies. At one point, 18 meat plants in the U.S. were shut down, which affected one third of all meat production in the country. Oxford Academic published a report, stating, “In this context, there were at least 462 meat packaging and 257 food-processing plants and 93 farm and production facilities were affected by covid-19 cases in the U.S.A.”

All of these moving parts in the food supply chain are connected with truck freight. The surge in demand, including the increase in e-commerce, has further exacerbated a shortage in truck drivers. Farm Progress reported: “[T]he trucking industry is currently short 80,000 drivers. … [B]y 2030 and at current trends, the gap could grow to 160,000. Nearly 1 million new drivers will need to be trained and hired in the next decade to keep pace with increase consumer demand and an aging workforce.”

Vaccine mandates also pose an issue. American Trucking Association representative Jon Samson said only 50 percent of U.S. truck drivers are vaccinated, and 80 percent of those who are not do not plan on getting the jab. This could cause major disruptions. The government of Canada imposed a strict vaccine mandate for truck drivers starting on January 15. American drivers who are unvaccinated cannot cross the border, and Canadian unvaccinated drivers have to quarantine for 14 days. Eighty percent of food imports from U.S. ports come into Canada via truck.

It will take years for these self-inflicted disruptions to be fixed, assuming there are no other disasters in the years ahead. The entire food supply chain was built for maximum profit and efficiency, not on food security, nutrition or public health. Food is one of the basic necessities of life, and yet our nations have made it one of our most fragile networks. This is a direct result of rejecting God’s law and God’s revelation as explained in the Bible.

The late Herbert W. Armstrong explained in The United States and Britain in Prophecy that America and the British peoples are descendants of ancient Israel and received incredible blessings of national greatness from God. Part of these blessings included natural resources and abundant food supply. Genesis 41 provides an example of what our leaders should have done with these food resources.

Joseph was sold into slavery by his brothers but, through many miracles, was asked by Pharaoh to interpret two dreams the ruler had. God revealed the meaning of the two dreams to Joseph: Egypt, the world superpower at the time, was to have seven years of agricultural abundance, followed by seven years of terrible famine. Joseph wisely advised Pharaoh to collect and store one fifth of all produce so that the nation would have food supplies during the famine (Genesis 41:32-41). This Hebrew slave was then made second-in-command to oversee this vast food supply program.

Joseph accepted revelation from God and then applied wisdom (verse 38-39; Proverbs 6:6-8). “Anciently Joseph saved up the wheat and food and made it available to others,” Mr. Armstrong wrote. “Modern Joseph did also. But—we are stiff-necked and rebellious toward God and His law, while our ancient forefather Joseph served and obeyed God with a whole heart.” The Bible reveals that if we reject God’s truth, our nations will be cursed. America and the British peoples have rejected revelation, and we have unwisely wasted incredible blessings. Catastrophic food supply chain failure is one of those curses (Joel 1:7-20; Leviticus 26:19-20). The covid restrictions are part of these curses, imposed by leaders who are being inspired by Satan the devil, the god of this world (Ephesians 2:2).

No amount of stockpiled food or money will save us from divine curses. If we trust and obey God, He promises to supply all of our needs, including food (Psalms 37:25; Matthew 6:25-26). If we are connected to God’s supply chain, incredible blessings and power are at our disposal. To learn more about what you need to do, please read “The Cure Is Killing Us” and The United States and Britain in Prophecy.