We don’t know the full extent of how long or how deadly this virus will be. So, should we be stocking our houses up with months or years worth of food? Before we panic, let’s look at what we do know about the Irish food supply chain.
Since the spread of the coronavirus to Europe, our supermarket chains have repeatedly told us that their supply lines are robust and they can continue to restock shelves, despite a massive surge in sales. Given that there are frequently supply issues around the world (due to war, natural disasters, trade wars, sanctions, droughts, crop failures etc), supermarkets are adept at finding alternative sources of supply. They are pros at this and have been for many decades. It is worth noting that typically prices of hard-to-obtain foods typically go up.
Politicians and health officials keep reminding us that panic-buying is not necessary and is counterproductive. That hasn’t stopped people though. Some supermarkets in Ireland have been forced to implement ad-hoc purchase limitations on many items and the panic has risen to a point where the Gardai have been sent in, to police some retail outlets. As Leo Varadkar said, “fear is a virus in itself”.
In a recent episode on Covid-19 by the BBC food programme, the underlying message from a British politician is, again, that there is loads of food for everyone – if we all play fair and don’t stockpile like maniacs. This from a country that imports 50% of its food and now lacks the support of the EU.
Then there’s Ireland. According to the Global Food Security Index (GFSI) Ireland is the second-most food-secure nation in the world, behind Singapore. In 2019, www.worldatlas.com had this to say:
“Ireland produces a vast majority of what it consumes. The secret to feeding its population lies in the adoption of technology in food production, the diversification of agriculture, an established network of food distribution, and an improving per capita income. Large-scale production ensures efficiency and sustainability in the agricultural sector while sufficient rainfall all year round promotes consistent use of available land”.See Full Article Here
We are a world powerhouse of dairy produce and beef (the world’s fifth-biggest beef producer) and have huge industries built around pigs, sheep and chicken too. We can grow a vast range of fruit, vegetables and cereals and still use relatively natural farming methods.
The Department of Agriculture recently released this statement:
“There is no reason for consumers to be concerned about continuity of supply of Irish food and drinks. Senior Department officials met Food Drink Ireland on Wednesday (11 March 2020) to discuss contingency planning for the food processing sector. Food processors, along with all other businesses and employers, are implementing business continuity plans to deal with possible disruption. There are no food safety implications arising from Covid-19, and there is no evidence that the virus can be spread through food products”.See Full Statement here.
Sadly, our restaurants, cafes and pubs are taking a massive kicking at the moment, and of course, the food suppliers that deliver to them. Supermarkets and delivery services are, however, booming. We can only hope that they are protecting their hard-working staff and paying them appropriately. Online food suppliers like Amazon (yes, food is a big part of what Amazon does these days), Tesco Online and in the US, Walmart are all totally overwhelmed and have months of backlog, so are best avoided.
In short. There is no need to worry about the supply of food in this country. We’ve gotten through much worse in the past and this time we are wholly prepared. Let’s take comfort in the fact that (in Western nations especially), government policy, agri-tech and food processing technology have spent since WW 2 ensuring that mass famine will never happen again. If the global population keeps growing the way it is, that’s a whole different matter.
Now more than ever, in Ireland, we should be supporting local food producers and eating as healthily and sustainably as we can. And after all of this dies down, let us try and make these permanent habits.
PS. Also. Give some thought to eating less meat. Think about it – Foot and Mouth Disease, BSE and CJD, Swine Flu, Avian Bird Flu, Bovine TB, E Coli, MRSA, Campylobacter, Salmonella – all of these kinds of diseases thrive on the fact that we farm and consume so many animals. They cause widespread economic damage, the unnecessary slaughter of animals and untold human sickness. There’s a very quick and easy way to make them all go away.