A Famine Will Follow With Coronavirus

By | May 6, 2020

When the COVID-19 pandemic is over and systems are in place for any reoccurrences, the world will still not be out of the woods. Experts are predicting that food disruptions and even a famine could follow.

COVID-19 was said to be an “equalizer,” affecting poor and rich countries alike. Certainly, the infection did not spare high-profile figures like U.K.’s Prince Charles1 and Prime Minister Boris Johnston,2 U.S. Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky3 and Miami Mayor Francis Suarez, even as it affected the poor and members of minorities.4

But the same may not be true for the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic, which experts predict will cause large swaths of poor nations to face hunger and starvation. Unlike the advanced food sales and distribution systems in rich countries, poor countries have unorganized systems that are heavily reliant on labor and have been deeply disrupted by COVID-19.

The economic and social disruptions caused by COVID-19 on the backdrop of harmful agricultural practices and resulting environmental destruction threaten to cause devastating world hunger, especially in poorer nations.5 Though the toll of the COVID-19 pandemic on human health will end as treatments are identified and the pandemic peaks, world hunger may be a long-lasting and grim outgrowth.

COVID-19 Affects All Facets of Society

When you look at the social, economic, agricultural and workforce fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic, it is like a perfect storm. Almost no sector of society has been spared, from travel and tourism to basic food production and delivery. According to The New York Times, a global hunger crisis looms from:6

“… the sudden loss in income for countless millions who were already living hand-to-mouth; the collapse in oil prices; widespread shortages of hard currency from tourism drying up; overseas workers not having earnings to send home; and ongoing problems like climate change, violence, population dislocations and humanitarian disasters …

There is no shortage of food globally, or mass starvation from the pandemic — yet. But logistical problems in planting, harvesting and transporting food will leave poor countries exposed in the coming months.”

Even when food prices don’t rise, countries that already suffered from food shortages before COVID-19 will face worsened situations, the Times continues:

“This is especially true for economies like Sudan and Zimbabwe that were struggling before the outbreak, or those like Iran that have increasingly used oil revenues to finance critical goods like food and medicine.”

Migrant Workers and Refugees Suffer From COVID-19

It is no surprise that migrant workers, doing the low-paying and often dangerous work that others don’t want to, are especially suffering from COVID-19-related work shutdowns. Thirty-five million migrants work in the six Arab Gulf states constituting over 80% of the population in some countries.7

In India, as many as half a million people working outside their cities or origin literally walked back home after their jobs disappeared with COVID-19. Amitabh Behar, chief executive of Oxfam India, called the exodus the “largest mass migration since independence.”8 The job loss is already causing food famines.

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Throngs of displaced workers coalesce at food lines set up by the Delhi government to feed them, but the amount of food is not always sufficient. “Instead of coronavirus, the hunger will kill us,” said Nihal Singh, a migrant worker hoping to be fed. Clustered food distribution in India and elsewhere also puts people at risk, since the crowding prevents social distancing.

COVID-19-related travel bans and airport closures have also worsened a gigantic locust invasion that is destroying pastureland and crops in the East and Horn of Africa by delaying the arrival of pesticides:9

“‘The outbreak is the worst the region has seen in decades and comes on the heels of a year marked by extreme droughts and floods. But the arrival of billions of new swarms could further deepen food insecurity,’ said Cyril Ferrand, head of the Food and Agriculture Organization’s resilience team in eastern Africa.”

Refugees and those fleeing wars in their respective countries are also victims of COVID-19, says the Times.10

“Refugees and people living in conflict zones are likely to be hit the hardest. The curfews and restrictions on movement are already devastating the meager incomes of displaced people in Uganda and Ethiopia, the delivery of seeds and farming tools in South Sudan and the distribution of food aid in the Central African Republic.

Containment measures in Niger, which hosts almost 60,000 refugees fleeing conflict in Mali, have led to surges in the pricing of food, according to the International Rescue Committee.”

US Meat Workers Sicken and Lose Jobs From COVID-19

Even during normal times, U.S. meat workers perform some of the most dangerous and low-paying jobs that exist. Most are immigrants doing jobs few people want to do; at the Smithfield Sioux Falls facility, 40 languages are spoken.11

But the plight of U.S. meat workers is heightened by Big Meat’s reliance on concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) that house thousands of animals in one facility and have crowded out family farms. CAFOs invite pandemics and novel pathogens through unhygienic crowding of animals. According to The American Conservative:12

“In 2017, three-quarters of the egg-laying hens in America were owned by just 320 farms, each averaging about 900,000 birds in annual inventory and 95 percent of American hogs were raised by farms that sold 5,000 hogs in a year. (In the same time frame, independent farmers sold on average 43 hogs each.) …

They look and operate more like factories, with poorly paid staff doing the work. The animals spend their entire lives in a confined space, rarely seeing the light of day. They can’t naturally survive under these conditions without being pumped full of drugs, incubating resistance that poses major threats to human health. They have also been found to amplify a pandemic.

Most of these operations are owned by a few huge corporations, meaning that the profits flow outside the community and, very often, outside of the country. In fact, the single largest owner and slaughterer of pigs in America is now a Chinese company called WH Group, which acquired Smithfield Foods in 2013.”

In April 2020 many U.S. slaughterhouses closed because of workers infected with COVID-19, some of whom died. As I write this, Smithfield Foods,13 the world’s largest pork producer, JBS,14 the world’s largest processor and marketer of chicken, beef, and pork and Tyson,15 the world’s second largest, have all shuttered their slaughterhouses.

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JBS’ parent company, helmed by the high-rolling brothers Wesley and Joesley Batista, is under investigation by the U.S. Department of and the Securities and Exchange Commission for alleged bribery and COVID-19-related price fixing.16

In addition to employees who work close to each other in slaughter facilities coping with increasing line speeds,17 U.S. meat inspectors themselves are also falling ill. According to the Los Angeles Times:18

“More than 100 inspection-service employees have tested positive for COVID-19, the government confirmed. At least two deaths of inspectors have been reported. U.S. inspectors travel among facilities. That’s adding to fears that shutdowns will keep occurring if a sick federal employee brings the infection to plants where there’s not yet an outbreak.”

Will COVID-19 Cause Shortages in the US Food Supply?

Big Meat, abetted by mainstream media, has floated the idea that food will be scarce in the U.S. because of the closing of slaughterhouses linked to COVID-19. Giant dairy farmers are dumping milk19 and pork farmers, claiming they have nowhere to send them, are euthanizing pigs.20

But the “food” they refer to is from multinational corporations, not family and regenerative farms that still offer healthful protein, including meat that does not come from CAFOs. Conventionally-produced meat teems with hormones, antibiotics, heavy metals, growth-producing drugs like ractopamine and antibiotic resistant pathogens that are treated with radiation, ammonia, chlorine, gasses and nitrites.21

Conventionally-produced meat is also produced with many vaccines. According to Organic Consumers Association:22

“For example Merck markets 49 vaccines for poultry alone to prevent diseases like fowl pox, turkey coryza, bursal disease, coccidiosis, laryngotracheitis, hemorrhagic enteritis, avian encephalomyelitis of course salmonella and E. coli …

It also markets at least 25 vaccines to prevent cattle diseases and an entire schedule of vaccines for pigs including … ‘an aid in the prevention of pneumonia, diarrhea, septicemia and mortality caused by Salmonella choleraesuis and as an aid in control of disease and shedding of Salmonella typhimurium.’ It even markets vaccines for use in aquaculture.”

CAFOS Drive Diseases and Pandemics

CAFOs are a driver of animal-based virus pandemics like avian and swine influenzas. Even as CAFO-linked slaughterhouses close, Big Pork is bracing for another China-originated novel virus called swine acute diarrhea syndrome coronavirus or SADS-CoV, which killed thousands of piglets in China from 2016 to 2017.23 According to Farm Journal Ag Web:24

“If SADS-CoV were to enter the U.S. the industry needs to be prepared to implement control strategies to mitigate the disease’s impact on pork producers.”

Big Ag and mainstream media assure the public the meat is safe to eat because coronaviruses like COVID-19 aren’t “foodborne illnesses,”25 but Paul Sundberg, executive director of the Swine Health Information Center, cautions that coronaviruses are “very adaptable.” They “can jump from species to species and certainly that’s been the U.S. pork experience,” he told Hog Farmer.26

Moreover, both SARS and MERS are coronaviruses that have been found in the past to jump from animals to humans who ate civet cats27 and camels,28 respectively.

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U.S. pork producers are also bracing for African swine fever (ASF), a China-based disease that has killed a quarter of the world’s pigs.29 “It’s not a question of whether ASF reaches American shores, but when,” writes Thomas Parsons, professor at the School of Veterinary Medicine, and Scott Michael Moore, China Program Director at the University of Pennsylvania, in The Hill.30

CAFOs and Environmental Destruction

CAFOs, in addition to driving pandemics, also drive environmental destruction. According to the American Conservative:31

“The environment simply cannot handle such massive populations of animals in such condensed space. The 25 million hogs in Iowa produce as much waste as 65 million humans equivalent to the populations of Texas and California combined.”

The waste is ruining America’s water from heavy rainfalls and manure spread indiscriminately on field crops that spills into waterways. A family farm with 100 hogs on it simply doesn’t pose a threat to our natural resources like these corporate factories. An opinion piece in the Des Moines Register by two professors of public health conveyed the enormity of the pollution:32

“Largely because of 23 million hogs, Iowa now has a ‘Fecal Equivalent Population’ of 168 million people … Over-application of manure, too often on frozen ground … increases in Iowa’s stream nitrate loads … our water leads all states in discharged nutrient loads …

Iowa has by far the most CAFOs of any state. We should heed the American Public Health Association’s Governing Council’s call in November 2019 for a national moratorium on new or expanded CAFOs, citing their ‘threat to air quality, drinking water and human health’ and to ‘stop using medically important antibiotics in healthy animals.'”

World Hunger Will Follow the COVID-19 Pandemic

The coronavirus pandemic has brought hunger to millions of people around the world already. National lockdowns, social distancing, loss of tourism and tanking oil prices have annihilated incomes, disrupted food production and supply chains and deprived poor children of the food they received at now-shuttered schools.33

In the U.S., food from CAFOs owned by multinational conglomerates will also be affected by the pandemic. Hopefully, we can depend on wholesome food from family and regenerative farmers to get us through the after-pandemic of hunger.


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