In an opinion piece published this week in the News Hub, Mike Chapman, CEO of Horticulture New Zealand, which represents 5,500 commercial fruit and vegetable producers across the country, warned that authorities hadn't heeded the producers' warning regarding the dangers that the country's food security faces, the consequences of which have begun to become evident after the coronavirus outbreak.
In the fight against the pandemic, New Zealand imposed a Level 4 total social isolation, which yielded good results from the health point of view but generated many uncertainties in production. Recently, authorities announced that they were moving from Level 4 to Level 3, a very controlled stage of economic opening that allows restaurants to prepare takeaway food.
That day, Mc Donald's alone sold 300,000 hamburgers, twice as many hamburgers as on the same day of last year, depleting the chain's lettuce reserves. "Mc Donald's ran out of lettuce!" Chapman said. Horticultural producers stopped planting when the total isolation started, as they didn't know how long the Level 4 isolation would last and there was no way to channel their products so they could be sold.
"It takes around 90 days in summer and around 150 days in winter (due to the cold) for lettuce to grow from seeds and be delivered to retailers or any other point of sale such as the Mc Donald's chain," Chapman pointed out in his text.
Producers did not plant lettuce because of the forced closing of the retailers, and now that product is lacking in the market. This is inconceivable in normal times.
"Horticulture New Zealand continually and unsuccessfully requested that independent fruit and vegetable retailers be open during the isolation period so that producers could have marketed their products. However, we were not heard, and now it's possible that some have already closed or gone bankrupt.”
According to Mike Chapman, "this shortage is just one example of why we as a country need a food security and supply policy: it takes a long time to grow the products we need."
"This is the time to develop and implement that food security policy and plan that Horticulture New Zealand producers have been working on before it is too late," he concluded.