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COVID-19 shows vulnerabilities in our food supply

A global pandemic may be the shock we need to boost resilience in the food system and address food insecurity.

 Australia and New Zealand have experienced challenges in maintaining an adequate nutritious food supply for all during the COVID-19 pandemic. There have been logistics issues within global supply chains that led to empty shelves for some basics, and border closures have created labour force shortages, especially in agricultural labour.

However, supply may not be the issue.  Australia is lucky to be one of the most food secure nations in the world, says the Australian Department of Agriculture. Production far outweighs consumption and imports constitute only 11% of the total food supply and are imported for taste and variety. In New Zealand the food supply is more than enough to meet population needs.

Demand for food relief from food charities has increased significantly during COVID-19 pandemic, however even pre-pandemic food insecurity was a problem. In New Zealand 40% of adults and 20% of children live in a household with severe to moderate food insecurity. In Australia it is estimated more than 20% of people experience food insecurity. The reason is that many people have been unable to afford to buy adequate nutritious food. The pandemic has caused reductions in income from employment disruption. In Australia, social services organisations found people reported greater quality of life on income support, including more money for food, when a corona virus supplement was added in 2020. However, payments have reverted to pre-pandemic levels described as inadequate.

Climate and health advocates say these pandemic-related shocks to the food system are a warning of what lies ahead with the effects of climate change such as extreme weather events, drought and natural disasters.  The challenge ahead is the need to adapt to climate change and produce food in a more environmentally and ecologically sustainable way, but also to ensure everyone has access to adequate, nutritious and affordable food that meets their preferences and dietary needs for a healthy active life.


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