By Louis DeBroux · Apr. 29, 2020
“It’s funny,” Bernie Sanders once bizarrely mused. “Sometimes American journalists talk about how bad a country is because people are lining up for food. That’s a good thing. In other countries, people don’t line up for food; rich people get the food and poor people starve to death.”
Well, if long food lines are Bernie’s idea of a good thing, he must be euphoric right now.
“The food supply chain is breaking,” warned Tyson Foods chairman John Tyson. He explained, “There will be limited supply of our products available in grocery stores until we are able to reopen our facilities that are currently closed.” Needless to say, creating a run on grocery stores could lead to further crisis.
Tyson’s letter softened the beaches for President Donald Trump, who signed an executive order Tuesday evening using the Defense Production Act to ensure that food-processing plants remain in operation. “Such closures threaten the continued functioning of the national meat and poultry supply chain, undermining critical infrastructure during the national emergency,” the order states. While CDC guidelines still protect workers, the FDA says a sick person cannot infect meat.
Naturally, unions, Obama minions, and PETA knuckleheads decried the order, but industry leaders praised Trump’s move as a needed unification of policy nationwide. American families who can still find ground beef at the grocery store should be thankful too.
Meanwhile, that’s not the only food problem facing the nation. In the six weeks or so since state governments began forcing businesses to close and citizens to shelter at home, more than 26 million Americans have lost their jobs, forcing previously productive citizens to turn to Bernie-style food lines for their meals. Food banks are reporting a 70% average increase in requests for food assistance. Locations normally serving 200-250 cars a day now struggle with lines stretching for miles, even as they face a 30% decrease in food donations and a shortage of volunteers, many of whom are staying home for fear of contracting the Wuhan virus.
And increasingly, thanks to government regulations, Americans are going hungry even as millions of pounds of meat, fresh fruits, and vegetables rot in the fields and farms, and millions of gallons of milk are dumped.
The bitter irony is that farmers, ranchers, and grocery retailers freely admit there is a surplus of food. About 40% of the country’s fresh produce is purchased by the food-service industry, and with restaurants and schools closed, there is enormous excess without a way to distribute it.
A major part of the problem is the USDA’s mountain of regulations dictating everything from what cuts of meat can be donated to the size of the boxes food can be donated in. The National Potato Council reports having $1.3 billion worth of potatoes and potato products it’s willing to donate to charities and food banks, but government regulations prohibit it.
Enterprising business owners and humanitarians have created online clearinghouses for food, attempting to quickly match up food suppliers with those in need, but their best efforts deal with only a fraction of the problem.
There is the added difficulty in logistics and costs of transporting surplus food to areas of need, and finding refrigerated storage once the food arrives. Though farmers are taking a devastating financial hit, many have harvested the food at their own expense and donated it, taking a loss on their crops and livestock. It would compound their losses to cover the costs of distribution.
The Department of Agriculture has a program that buys $3 billion in excess meat and produce each year, giving it to food banks and charities. But with the current glut, those funds have quickly been drained, leaving farmers with a small fraction of their normal revenue.
The USDA announced it will be spending $100 million per month for the next six months on fresh produce, and another $100 million per month on dairy and cooked meat, which will be assembled into variety boxes for the hungry. USDA officials say they’re “attempting to move at lightning speed,” but the typical procurement timeline for USDA takes months, and these variety boxes will not be available for at least several weeks. Regulations, bureaucracy, and red tape mean taking months to organize something that needs to be handled in a matter of days.
In the meantime, Americans are going hungry, and produce farmers are losing $1 billion per week in desperately needed revenue.
Some states have just begun to reopen businesses under strict health and safety protocols, so the restaurant industry will soon begin to slowly take some of that excess supply from farmers and ranchers. Schools will reopen in the fall, taking up even more of the excess supply, so a complete reconfiguration of the food supply chain doesn’t make logistical or economic sense.
However, the problems with excessive government regulations that have been revealed by this crisis should serve as a factory full of red flags to the American people as to the dangers of a massive, sluggish, unimaginative government bureaucracy during times of crisis. That’s not just a humanitarian crisis; it’s an issue of national security.