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What Covid-19 has taught us about food in 2020

It’s been a year like no other for the global food industry. Lockdowns and ongoing restrictions as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic have resulted in border closures, halted logistics and caused significant supply chain disruptions, resulting in major food security issues.

As governments across the world attempt to get back on track, we reflect on what we’ve learned about food this year.

Risks of Wildlife Disease Transfer

Covid-19 has rightfully dominated the global headlines in 2020. However, there is another global pandemic happening that is often driven by wildlife spreading illness into domestic populations – African Swine Fever (ASF).

ASF is not zoonotic and cannot affect people, but it is 100% fatal in pigs. The disease has ravaged global pig populations and put farms across the world on edge.

Germany, the largest pork producer in the EU, had managed to keep the disease out of the country until recently. Dozens of wild boars have been found infected with African Swine Fever over the past month. These wild animals threaten to spread the disease into domesticated pigs, which would be a devastating blow to the essential industry. Already, just the risk of an outbreak is threatening global protein trade at a time when food security is essential.

Access is as important as production

In the first few months of the global lockdown, producers were suddenly cut off from their clients. They were unable to deliver food to cafes, bars and restaurants that had been shut down. Some producers were even forced to dump milk or plough under crops as processing plants shut down.

Yet, at the same time – many supermarket shelves went unstocked and selection for consumers was limited. Still today, acute hunger is on the rise around the world and may even double by the end of the year, which is leading to a worrying rise in malnutrition in the most vulnerable.

Altogether, we’ve been given a stark reminder that resilient supply chains and access to food is just as important as efficient production. As we build back in the wake of Covid-19, it will be essential to examine how to strengthen systems and facilitate more trade so food can reach those in need.

Changing consumer habits

Initial panic led many consumers in developed countries across the world to stockpile food. It was a worrying time but with a silver lining as many discovered a newfound appreciation for food. With eateries closed, 60 per cent of households in the US ate more home cooked meals. In the UK, increased levels of home cooking led to some increases in sales of animal food products, thought to be a result of needing to cook a variety of meals and having more time to cook.

Additionally, lockdown changed attitudes to food waste in the home — in the UK more than eight in ten people agreed food waste was an important national issue, leading to a significant drop in food waste during April 2020. However, attitudes may be driven out of necessity rather than environmental concerns due to the ensuing economic downturn.

As we recover

Already stakeholders across the animal health and food production chain have been making significant changes to ensure safe working practices and bolster operations. But it’s those in need of food that are hardest hit as we try to resume operations – it’s estimated that the number of people going hungry may double to almost a quarter of a billion if we don’t take action. Until we find a vaccine for Covid-19, we must continue to develop ways to help protect our systems against any future crises we may face.