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Clara Ferreira Marques

Food Supply Is the Next Virus Headache

Measures to slow the spread are disrupting processing, transport and farm labor. A global crisis can still be averted.

Nerves are fraying as infection rates rise.

Nerves are fraying as infection rates rise.

Photographer: David Ramos/Getty Images

It’s not just manufacturing that’s struggling with disrupted logistics. As more countries bring down the shutters to limit the spread of the coronavirus, risks are rising for the world's complex food supply networks. Snarl-ups in processing and transport could result in painful price spikes for many fresh goods, even if farms in developed markets can keep working through the outbreak.

The picture isn’t all gloomy. On a global scale, stocks of corn, wheat, soybeans and rice are healthier than before previous periods of food inflation. While some prices have been heading higher, increases aren’t across the board. Sugar and corn have been held back by reduced demand from biofuels producers as oil plummets. Low fertilizer and crude prices, meanwhile, will help offset other rising costs for farmers.