Protecting the Right to Food in the Era of COVID-19 and Beyond

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On the sixteenth of March, 2020, I headed to Woolworths for my weekly grocery shopping. Unlike any other time I had experienced, what awaited me was
not a store full of fresh and tasty food products. Instead, it was a horrific scene
one often sees in apocalypse movies: hundreds of anxious shoppers were racing
through the grocery aisles, loading all the food items they could find on the
shelves into their shopping carts. As the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) was
quickly spreading throughout Australia, it was expected that panic buying would
eventually come to Armidale, a college town in rural New South Wales, Australia, where I live and work. It was apparent that this day had come earlier than
expected. Over the following two weeks, the situation did not improve; grocery
stores across Australia still struggled to keep up with the dramatically increased
consumer demand. Meat, particularly ground beef, sold out immediately. Dry
foods, such as rice and pasta, disappeared within minutes. Many shoppers had to visit several stores on a hunt for some of the most basic food items necessary to prepare a single meal.
The rest of the world was not immune to panic buying. COVID-19 triggered
people’s survival instinct on a much broader scale than any time period since
World War II. Shoppers throughout the world rushed to grocery stores to stock
up on food, hoping that several weeks’ supply might spare them from what was
to come. For example, in mid-March, British shoppers cleaned out shelves as COVID-19 anxiety rose. In late March, American shoppers found empty
shelves had hit their stores as well. Although authorities insisted that there was
no real food shortage and the issue involved only temporary supply-chain bottlenecks, the public chose to ignore official advice and continued stockpiling
Two concerns arise pertaining to COVID-19’s food security impact. In the
short term, panic buying across the world has largely restricted vulnerable peoples’ access to adequate food and nutrition, particularly those who do not have the financial or physical means—let alone the space—to stockpile food. In the long term, there is also an emerging concern that COVID-19 may provoke absolute food shortages around the world, leading to a devastating food crisis.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-43
JournalGeorgia Journal of International and Comparative Law
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2021
Externally publishedYes


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