The COVID-19 pandemic is affecting food systems and all dimensions of food security across the world, as restrictions and lockdown measures hamper the movement of agricultural and food industry workers and cause border delays for food containers, directors-general of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the World Health Organization (WHO) and the World Trade Organization (WTO) said in a joint statement.
"When acting to protect the health and well-being of their citizens, countries should ensure that any trade-related measures do not disrupt the food supply chain," the statement said.
"Food trade restrictions could also be linked to unjustified concerns on food safety. If such a scenario were to materialize, it would disrupt the food supply chain, with particularly pronounced consequences for the most vulnerable and food insecure populations."
While the coronavirus continues to spread worldwide, it's unknown when it could come to an end. The uncertainty about food availability can spark a wave of export restrictions, which can alter the balance between food supply and demand, thereby creating a shortage in the global market and resulting in price spikes and increased price volatility.
The organizations called for international cooperation in such a time to avoid food shortage and "panic buying," stressing the importance of guaranteeing trade flows as freely as possible and protecting food producers and food workers at processing and retail sectors from getting infected with the virus, which they say it's critical to maintain food supply chains.
The organizations also highlighted the necessity of sharing information on food-related trade measures, explaining that real-time information sharing on food-related trade measures, levels of food production, consumption and stocks, as well as on food prices, reduces uncertainty and allows producers, consumers and traders to make informed decisions.
"Now is the time to show solidarity, act responsibly and adhere to our common goal of enhancing food security, food safety and nutrition, and improving the general welfare of people around the world. We must ensure that our response to COVID-19 does not unintentionally create unwarranted shortages of essential items and exacerbate hunger and malnutrition."