Matt Herrick, a senior vice president at the International Dairy Foods Association, said the dairy industry was not facing any production shortages. Unlike other sectors of the economy, dairy farmers can’t shut down — their cows continue to produce milk. But unlike meat or grain, milk cannot be frozen or stored for long periods of time.
That means the dairy industry is facing the possibility of millions of pounds of food waste a week, now that milk is no longer in demand from the restaurants, ice cream stores, coffee shops and concession stands, Mr. Herrick said. That’s true for export markets like Canada, Mexico and China, as well as within the United States, where commercial food service accounts for roughly half of all food sales.
Most food producers have been designated as “essential” businesses, and continue to operate even through the pandemic. But some have lowered their output to comply with social distancing measures. And some farms and companies are also seeing shortages of truck drivers and migrant laborers, who typically plant and harvest fruits and vegetables.
Mr. Gold of the National Retail Federation, which includes Walmart, Target and other major food retailers, said it was too early to say whether consumers could see shortages of some food items in the coming months. But he said that states needed to coordinate to ensure that all links in the food supply chain remained open and continued to function.
“It’s not just the manufacturing facility, it’s the farm, the trucking facilities, the distribution facility,” Mr. Gold said.
Around the world, other lockdowns could portend shortages in metals and medicines. In South Africa, a lockdown has idled the world’s biggest mines for platinum and palladium. In India, which provides 40 percent of the American generic drug supply, as well as many of the active pharmaceutical ingredients that go into making medicines, health experts warn that stay-at-home orders could disrupt the supply of pharmaceutical products to the United States.
India barred exports of a few key drugs last month, but reversed the curbs this week under intense pressure from the United States. A nationwide lockdown could still complicate the process of making and distributing essential drugs, said Yanzhong Huang, a senior fellow for global health at the Council on Foreign Relations.