It took the shock of coronavirus for many developed countries to notice the fragility of their own systems, says a feature in Wired magazine.
Overnight, thousands of restaurants, school cafeterias and workplace canteens stopped buying produce from wholesalers.
Supermarkets that saw their global supply chains tremble during the crisis will face further disruption. The UK currently imports around half of its food, according to government figures. A third comes from the EU, including chillies, cucumbers and spinach, while products such as beans, honey and avocados are among the 20 per cent of produce imported from further afield. Both sources are likely to be threatened by the twin forces of Brexit and climate change, and will be pitted against the influx of US produce that will follow Brexit, a battle that will play out in the consumer choice between quality and price.
Leigh Sparks, professor of retail studies at the University of Stirling, says the impact of coronavirus on supermarkets is unprecedented, but also representative of a “class of issues” including Brexit, protectionism and climate change.
“The system is basically a long chain but quick response just in time system that runs on small variations and predictability,” he says. “Throw in any barriers – tariffs, borders, lack of pickers – and the system is disrupted. Throw in cheap food from the US with lower standards and the system comes under more pressure.”