The impact of the SARS-Cov-2 Pandemic on the food chain on the island of Ireland
Since early 2020, the food chain on the island of Ireland, and indeed worldwide, has been impacted by the Sars-Cov-2 (Covid-19) pandemic which has imposed shocks on all segments of the food supply chain, simultaneously affecting primary production, food processing, transport and logistics, and consumer demand. Primary production has been impacted through direct on-farm labour shortages and the movement of raw materials. Food processing has been impacted through workforce curtailment and outright shutdowns in many cases, particularly with virus-hit workforces. All modes of goods transportation have been negatively affected by the pandemic with decreases of up to 50% recorded in some forms of transport in the EU. Consumer food buying behaviour has witnessed sporadic buying/hoarding sprees and a massive shift to online shopping and food purchasing which is not without its food safety concerns.
The food chain on the island of Ireland is complex and international and therefore subject to macro risks from the pandemic. We set out to analyse how this food chain is currently operating under the crisis conditions brought about by the pandemic, and what vulnerabilities have already been identified and are likely to be experienced in the short to medium term – vulnerabilities that may have ramifications for food safety and food fraud. It was opportune to garner current expert opinion on where the pandemic will likely impact this food chain and how these upsets will likely evolve. The aspiration is that this will contribute to the augmentation of food chain resilience on the island of Ireland, thereby protecting the indigenous food industry, as well as public health and consumer choice.
This report was prepared by Dr Vincent Hargaden, Associate Professor of Engineering Management and Head of the Systems Engineering Subject Area in the School of Mechanical and Materials Engineering, University College Dublin. The current scientific and open literature was interrogated for the known impacts the pandemic has had/is having on food chains worldwide and on the island of Ireland. This was used as the basis for designing semi-structured interview protocols for use with food business and trade association representatives from across the food sector on the island of Ireland (Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland).