Though food is still plentiful, with only temporary and localized shortages, the threat of the COVID 19 crisis to the food supply is considerable. There is no evidence thus far that the disease can be transmitted via food or packaging (though the virus apparently remains viable on plastic for 2 to 4 days). The real danger is that chains of supply will be undermined by both sickness and the pre-cautionary measure we take. Already we are seeing a contraction of food imports from abroad. But the danger extends to even our own local supply.
The safety of shoppers and workers at supermarkets is the first worry that public officials and the general public have expressed. But the food at market comes from somewhere; and that “somewhere” is peopled by a vast array of workers, starting with farmers and farm workers. Will we continue to have the workforce necessary to produce our food, and will they be able to do it in conditions of health and safety for themselves?
We don’t know, but there are troubling concerns. Take fresh produce, for example. Already pressed by acute labor shortages, farms large and small in places like the Central Coast of California have scrambled to provide job security to their workers. But they also depend during crucial harvest periods on temporary labor, and as the border tightened under the Trump administration the H2-A visa system has become important. Florida, Georgia, Washington, and California all depend upon a sizeable workforce from Mexico and the Caribbean under the system. But the virus has meant the closing of consulates in Mexico and elsewhere that process these visas. The labor crunch will come soon for producers of lettuce and strawberries on the Central Coast.
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