Fishing industry slump demonstrates vulnerability of food security in virus crisis

Fishing industry slump demonstrates vulnerability of food security in virus crisis

Measures are needed to avoid a worldwide Covid-19 slump in agriculture and food production, such as already exists in the fishing industry.

Fishing fleets and fish farmers were among the hardest hit by COVID-19, and not just in Ireland.

Businesses in the United States and elsewhere supplying high-value food products like lobster and other crustaceans to restaurants in China have also been crippled by the pandemic.

Agriculture Minister Michael Creed said the Irish fisheries sector is facing very difficult times, after bad weather earlier in the year reduced their catches, and now because its traditional markets in Asia and in Europe have been closed.

Demand for seafood slumped dramatically.

Many Irish trawlers are now tied up at the piers, with their crews having handed out free fish, unwanted by the markets, to local people in the ports.

The fishing industry will now depend heavily on government support grants or tax breaks, after the European Commission eased state aid rules, to enable such supports to be increased.

Minister Creed said the Government will use such supports to help the industry continue its work, rather than stay tied up at the ports.

He said the aim is that this important source of food contributes to feeding the country. That is the challenge for the entire food sector, as the pandemic threatens disruption due to labour shortages, logistical difficulties in transporting goods across borders, and falling export demand.

Difficulty in distributing fish to export markets was one of the sector’s problems.

The entire food industry now depends on member states heeding the European Commission instructions to unclog bottleneck border crossings, and reduce truck border waits to 15 minutes, by using “green lanes” to keep all freight moving.

Member states were also asked to withdraw any night or weekend bans on driving, and cut back on border paperwork, after huge tailbacks and jams of up to 60 kilometres had emerged at crucial crossing points in the Czech Republic, France, Germany, Hungary, Poland, Slovakia, and Spain.

Fishing industry slump demonstrates vulnerability of food security in virus crisis

Special lanes should also be set up to allow health workers to get to and from work, and each country was instructed to keep at least one airport fully functional for freight and repatriation, said the EU.

A full-fledged recession is more likely to emerge, as economic activity slows more seriously across all areas and sectors, going beyond quarantined cities, tourism, sports and other events, restaurants and activities involving people gathering in close proximity, and international passenger travel).

In the event of a full-fledged recession, Governments and the EU must act to avoid collapses in consumer demand, which could damage continued access to food.

The main way is to provide additional social welfare protection for the public.

Trade channels must be kept open so that international markets can play their role in avoiding food shortages.

E-commerce and delivery companies must be enabled to play a key logistical role, especially where there is a strict lockdown (for a list of companies which have been offering contactless takeaway food, see the www.goodfoodireland.ie website)

Such measures are needed until movements of people, goods and services begin to return to normal, when businesses, including the food sector, can look forward to a rebound in economic activity.

In the meantime, maintaining staffing levels in food processing plants will be one of the many challenges.

Farmers now depend on these staffs, if they are to be able to take their cattle to slaughter, or deliver their milk for processing.

Many food industry workers have relatively low wages.

Will they continue to come into work if at risk of contracting Covid-19?

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