Many Americans naively believe food will always be available. We’ve gotten used to driving through fast-food restaurant lines, visiting fully stocked grocery stores, having food delivered within the hour, and Amazon packages delivered in a day.
If 2020 wasn’t a wake-up call for us, we might be in for an even more rude awakening in the coming months.
America’s food supply is in danger – and not just because of the ongoing pandemic-driven supply chain issues.
Most of us don’t think about where our food comes from, or the many industries (and the government branches) involved in getting that food from its original condition to the plate sitting in front of us.
But, when any part of this elaborate chain goes down or is weakened, it becomes harder to get food on the table – whether it’s because there isn’t food on the shelves or it has become too expensive to purchase like we used to.
And that’s exactly what’s happening now. As the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS) puts it: "Global supply chains are beginning to buckle as two years' worth of strain on transport workers takes their toll."
One thing is certain: it’s time to prepare for more price spikes, ingredient shortages at grocery stores, and abbreviated menus at restaurants.
It’s time to prepare for food emergencies instead of relying on failing systems.
Here’s what is happening, and why you shouldn’t simply expect food to be on grocery store shelves or restaurant menus.
Labor Shortages Are Greatly Affecting Cost and Supply
There is a major shortage of workers across all industries, but the food industry is noticeably crippled.
Benjamin Walker, senior vice president of sales, marketing, and merchandising at Baldor Specialty Foods tells Bloomberg, “The entire food sector is seeing ‘massive labor shortages’ […] Service levels are the lowest I’ve seen in my 16-year career, and it doesn’t seem like it’s going away anytime soon.”
He adds that finding truck drivers is “next to impossible.”
Labor shortages in the shipping industry are also affecting food deliveries. For example, FedEx is experiencing serious labor shortages.
The Portland Oregon FedEx facility is currently 65% staffed. As a result, it is having to divert 25% of the volume from its hub by using third-party transportation, which raises costs all the way around.
In Britain, where driver shortages have caused gas pumps to go dry (leaving people stranded at home without gas) the food supply has taken a major hit.
“The crises afflicting the UK economy have sparked talk in newspapers and among politicians of a looming ‘winter of discontent,’ said Hanna Ziady of CNN. “Supply chain delays and rising food costs are [also] affecting several major economies, including the United States…”
Inflation Is Occurring Across the Industry
All of these combined leads to an increase in prices.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics recently reported, inflation at the wholesale level “rose 8.3 percent” for the year, which is “the largest advance since 12-month data were first calculated in November 2010.”
This is how it looked for consumers: Meat, poultry, fish and eggs went up 5.9 percent over last year (or up 15.7 percent from prices in pre-pandemic 2019).
According to Spectrum Local, “The skyrocketing cost of feed for farm animals, whose diets consist largely of corn and soybeans, is one reason for the increase. The price of corn is up 57% in 2021 and has more than doubled in the past year, while soybean prices are up more than 25% since Jan. 1. Although it can be somewhat gradual, eventually those higher costs get passed down to the consumer.”
Conditions Are Hurting Crops and Animals
The Texas Tribune reports that this past February, the brutal winter storm resulted in massive losses for citrus and vegetable farms in the Rio Grande Valley. Additionally, multiple cattle packing plants and flour mills across the state were shut down from the storm for several days.
Hurricanes also wreak havoc. According to Meat+Poultry, “Following Hurricane Ida making landfall in Louisiana[...], a number of meat and poultry processors have made the decision to shut down operations in the potential path.”
But, drought and heat waves are having a lingering impact on our food supply.
Reporter Laura Riley claims, “Severe heat and drought in the U.S. West have killed hay that cattle eat and made water prohibitively expensive, and many ranchers have sold their animals or slaughtered early, a predictor of smaller herds next year.”
And America’s food troubles don’t stop at our borders. China has a tough harvest season ahead, with power shortages looming and bad weather contributing to poor wheat quality.
“China is set for a difficult harvest season,” says Jasmine Ng of Bloomberg news, “a development that risks triggering a renewed surge in world agriculture and food prices.” These could hit the US hard, as we import a surprising amount of our food from China.
Shipping and Delivery Issues Are Rampant
Global shipping is currently a nightmare and won’t get out of the current bottleneck any time soon.
Dozens of cargo ships are stuck off New York's coast, as well as Los Angeles and Long Beach ports due to labor shortages.
According to Andy Harig, the vice president for tax, trade, sustainability, and policy development for the Food Marketing Institute, “The wait to get into the port at Long Beach [in California] is almost eight days, and we have 56 ships backed up at any given time. There are reports of container ships turning around and not even waiting to get refilled.”
As a result, companies are paying more for fuel and freight.
For example, one report found, “Last year, transporting a 40-foot steel container cost $1,920; today, the cost can be more than $14,000.”
Those costs get passed down to consumers.
Cyberattacks Are Hitting the Food Industry
In May 2021, Americans on the East Coast found themselves waiting for hours at the pump or driving across towns to fill up gas tanks. Why? A cyberattack on Colonial Pipeline created a massive gas shortage.
Now the same sort of thing is happening in the agricultural industry.
According to a Fox Business September 21, 2021 report, “The U.S. grain, pork and chicken supply could be at risk after a ransomware attack on New Cooperative Inc. has forced the Iowa-based agriculture services provider's systems to go offline.”
The hackers are asking New Cooperative for 5.9 million dollars to recover the system. If the system is not recovered soon, New Cooperative believes there will be a “very very public disruption to the grain, pork and chicken supply chain […] The impact of this attack will likely be much worse than the pipeline attack for context.”
In short, hackers have found a way to hijack America's food supply.
Food Regulation Is Creating Complications
Can you imagine a world without bacon?
That’s a real possibility for people in California soon, with ramifications extending to the rest of the country.
According to the Los Angeles Times, “At the beginning of next year, California will begin enforcing an animal welfare proposition approved overwhelmingly by voters in 2018 that requires more space for breeding pigs, egg-laying chickens and veal calves.”
The outlook isn’t good since it takes money and time to meet these standards.
The article continues, “National veal and egg producers are optimistic they can meet the new standards, but only 4% of hog operations now comply with the new rules. Unless the courts intervene or the state temporarily allows noncompliant meat to be sold in the state, California will lose almost all of its pork supply, much of which comes from Iowa, and pork producers will face higher costs to regain a key market.”
Even if suppliers find ways to meet the new standards, there will be issues.
These new regulations will cost farmers more money, which will cost consumers more money, too.
The article claims, “If half the pork supply was suddenly lost in California, bacon prices would jump 60%, meaning a $6 package would rise to about $9.60.”
Store Limitations Are Holding Consumers Back
On top of not being able to find groceries on store shelves (or have them shipped) and the subsequent price increases, consumers are once again facing store limitations.
Costco recently announced it is once again limiting purchases on certain essentials, including bath tissues, paper towels, cleaners, and water. While food is not currently limited, it may be on the way.
According to Fox Business, “Costco's current supply chain and inflationary pressures, which include port delays, higher labor and freight costs, and shortages on everything from shipping containers, trucks, and drivers to various components, raw materials, and ingredients, have caused most of its general items to sell out within two weeks.”
While Costco is taking measures to ensure they can deliver goods to customers in a timely manner, we should be prepared for missing items and possibly even more purchase limitations.
How to Protect Yourself Against the Unstable Food Supply Chain
All this goes to show, it is more important than ever before to practice preparedness and do what you can now.
- Stock up on long-term emergency food.
- Hobby farm if your neighborhood allows for it.
- Grow your own food.
- Get to know local farmers.
- Learn to hunt, fish, and forage for food.
Feed yourself, free yourself, friends.
Preparedness Advisor, My Patriot Supply