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Interventions Urgently Needed To Defend and Expand World Food Supply, as Emergencies Increase

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EIRNS)—Interventions are required to defend and expand world food output, given the impact of COVID-19. So far, measures are being announced from one place to another, but international coordination is urgent to organize on what food production to foster, and how to make certain food is available in emergency areas. These actions raise key principles about restoring people-serving economic practices, not the free-trade markets system, which was ready to blow out anyway, before the pandemic broke out. A few recent reports:

• In North America, Canada and the U.S.A. each announced financial support packages for farmers in the last week. Canada will make some $3.5 billion available to aid farmers. In the U.S., under the new CARES Act, signed March 27, there is to be some $40 billion replenishment for the Commodity Credit Corp. (CCC), the U.S. Department of Agriculture agency that can directly disburse aid to farmers. The CCC has made these disbursements over the last 18 months, in two rounds of “market facilitation” aid during the tariff conflict with China and others. Further, there is to be additional aid for livestock producers, buffeted hard, with herds and flocks to maintain.

Hog producers, for example, which supply restaurant chains, were deprived of buyers overnight, when eateries shut down. They face being wiped out. For cattle, a huge scandal has been revealed, with four major packers that control 85% of U.S. beef processing—Cargill, Tyson Foods, National Beef and JBS—making piracy-profits during the runs on supermarkets when national emergency was declared, but the cattlemen were stiffed. Beef prices to ranchers dropped 30% in recent months, though they have ticked up recently. Iowa’s Sen. Chuck Grassley (R) has called for an investigation. Tyson and others even made a CYA move last week, offering ranchers an extra $5 per 100 lbs ($50-$60 on a steer), just to be nice! But horror stories flood the whole of the cattle range, in which of producers are losing tens of thousands of dollars no matter what they do—auction, feed lot, packing plant.

Moreover, packer capacity itself is now in question, because of sick or absent workers. Meat packing is notorious for exploiting poor, undocumented migrant workers, who now are desperate for where they can go to find work.

Comparatively, bulk grains and oilseeds are very mechanized in cropping and milling, and less prone to disruption, but still not secure. U.S. corn-ethanol operations, with big interconnections to corn growers, are in crisis as gasoline prices have tanked.

Specialty crops, from orchards to citrus groves to field fruits and vegetables, are labor-intensive and very hard hit by labor and related disruption.

• Mexico has much labor-intensive, relatively high value fruits and vegetable (free-trade) sourcing, whose production is very affected by COVID-19.

The same vulnerability is also striking the Mediterranean countries, famous for their specialty agriculture production in Italy, Spain, Morocco, and Greece.

• India is in extreme emergency. The government exempted farmers from the March 24 three-week lockdown, but they need a large amount of help to keep up production, and to get food to the masses of poor and dislocated Indians now in lockdown. There is already hunger, suffering and death.

• In China, there are reports of concern to prevent any food scarcity, from various factors, which have to be addressed. The Hong Kong daily, South China Morning Post, with its own slant, plays up the question of soybeans, given that China relies on importing 80% of its soybean consumption for both animal feed and foodstuffs.

• Asia, in various places, is concerned over rice. March is rice harvest-time in Vietnam, the world’s third largest exporter, and the nation has topped up its own national security stockpile, ahead of exports. India and Thailand are the top two exporters, with India in the throes of the virus. There have been reports of hoarding. Hong Kong, Indonesia, and elsewhere, are very dependent on rice imports.