Rome (People’s Daily) – As countries move to enact measures to halt the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, care must be taken to minimize the potential impact on the food supply or unintended consequences on global trade and food security, said a joint statement by Qu Dongyu, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus and Roberto Azevedo, Directors-General of FAO, WHO and WTO, respectively, on Tuesday.
When acting to protect the health and well-being of their citizens, countries should ensure that any trade-related measures do not disrupt the food supply chain, said the statement. Such disruptions would hamper the movement of agricultural and food industry workers and extend border delays for food containers, which will result in the spoilage of perishables and increase food waste. According to the statement, food trade restrictions could also be linked to unjustified concerns on food safety. “If such a scenario were to materialize, it would disrupt the food supply chain, with particularly pronounced consequences for the most vulnerable and food insecure populations”, it said.
The statement alerted the uncertainty about food availability, saying it can spark a wave of export restrictions, creating a shortage in the global market, and alter the balance between food supply and demand, resulting in price spikes and increased price volatility. “We learned from previous crises that such measures are particularly damaging for low-income, food-deficit countries and to the efforts of humanitarian organizations to procure food for those in desperate need”, it warned.
"We must prevent the repeat of such damaging measures. It is in times like this that more, not less, international cooperation becomes vital. In the midst of the COVID-19 lockdowns, every effort must be made to ensure that trade flows as freely as possible, especially to avoid food shortage”, it appealed, urging to protect food producers to minimize the spread of the disease within this sector and maintain food supply chains. Consumers were highlighted as most vulnerable in the statement, who should be allowed to access food within their communities under strict safety requirements.
"We must also ensure that information on food-related trade measures, levels of food production, consumption and stocks, as well as on food prices, are available to the public in real time to reduce uncertainty and contain panic buying”, the statement said.
"Now is the time to show solidarity, act responsibly and adhere to our common goal of enhancing food security, food safety and nutrition and improving the general welfare of people around the world”, said the statement. “We must ensure that our response to COVID-19 does not unintentionally create unwarranted shortages of essential items and exacerbate hunger and malnutrition.”