The COVID-19 brought to light the way food is produced and consumed around the world. With the spread of a disease that possibly derives from unsafe animal slaughtering and cooking of meat, countries are now being faced with the task to improve hygiene-sanitary control and standards. At the same time, in trying to curb the infectious waves, the governments resort to measures that pose a risk to the operation of global food chains and to the most vulnerable families.
The studies Supply chains and food security) and Saúde única, zoonoses e segurança do alimento (Unified health, zoonosis and food security), published by Insper’s Global Agribusiness Center, assessed the challenges brought by the novel coronavirus pandemic.
When it comes to the production and supply of food, according to the researchers, problems arise usually associated with labor-intensive activities, which have been affected by people’s transit restriction and travel bans, and are often more prevailing in developing countries.
Attention is also brought to restrictive and protectionist measures being implemented by some governments in response to the effects of the novel coronavirus. Thosepolicies can hinder the functioning of international agricultural markets, making global chains less efficient, as it happened 2007 and 2011.
Another concern relates to countries that depend on food imports, which is often the case of the Middle Eastern and African countries. In addition to supply chain disruptions at the beginning of the crisis, which have been eased in recent months, the rise in protectionism may aggravate the situation, creating a number of bottlenecks.
These nations would suffer more in a context of food shortages and increase in prices.. The latter is, at least for now, a distant reality, as the behavior of world prices did not change significantly throughout the first half of the year.
The price level is of particular interest to the poorer populations. The reduction in average income due to the economy retraction – especially in countries where governments do not have the fiscal or organizational capacity to provide emergency financial or humanitarian relief – may worsen the hunger situation in the world, estimated at 800 million people suffering from hunger.
According to the United Nations’ World Food Program, the pandemic effects could double the number of people suffering acute hunger, reaching a staggering mark of 265 million by the end of this year. At a greater risk are regions such as sub-Saharan Africa, where most of the population do not have enough income to afford a nutritious food basket.
The fact that the new coronavirus is likely to have been passed on to humans from bats, which are hunted for consumption in China and other countries, has raised concerns about the prevention of a new pathogen emergence that may be potentially harmful to humans.
COVID-19 is the third episode of zoonosis in a short period, after SARS in 2003 and MERS in 2012. The recurrence and permanence of favorable conditions for wildlife viruses that infect humans draw attention to the urgent need to map out the risk of new zoonosis outbreaks and act accordingly and in a timely manner.
Population growth, increased population density and the expansion of agricultural activities into natural forest lands promote greater interaction between human beings and domesticated animals, on one side, and species and pathogens that used to maintain certain distance, on the other, increasing the likelihood of infectious outbreaks.
As a result of these demographic changes, highly populated regions such as Asia and Africa become favorable places for the emergence of diseases like COVID-19.
In China alone, the wildlife industry for food, clothing and medicine produces the equivalent of $ 74 billion a year and employs about 14 million workers. In some regions of the globe, subsistence hunting is practically the only source of protein.
The sanitary conditions in which this activity takes place are often precarious – lacking proper meat refrigeration and hygiene protocols. Even the supply of meat of domesticated species
sometimes occurs through highly informal chains – only half of Chinese swine production, for example, happens on an industrial scale.
However, these animals, who have lived alongside humans for centuries, are potential hosts for new pathogens. Therefore, its meat production for consumption should be subject to hygiene and sanitary controls and standards applied in a systematic way.
Amid the challenges, Brazil – home to the largest agribusiness surplus in the world – can act in the crisis as a guarantor of global food supply, argue Insper researchers. They add that the country could be accredited for the prevention of zoonoses, due to implemented hygiene and sanitary controls and the sustainable use of land in its modern production sectors.