Coronavirus crisis: Food supplies in Australia adequate but warnings of longer-term supply impacts

Authorities have moved to reassure Australians the country won't run short on food, despite the impact of the COVID-19 crisis on supply chains here and abroad.

We can all access seasonal fruit and vegetables if we shop responsibly. (Flickr)

We can all access seasonal fruit and vegetables if we shop responsibly. (Flickr) Source: Flickr

Experts say food in Australia is in steady supply for now, but there are warnings that the longer-term supply chain will be affected as the COVID-19 lockdown continues. 

In particular, some imports of other crucial manufactured goods could be severely affected if the lockdown continues well into the year.

Ana Ferreira and Jason Hill check stock in their warehouse which contains cooking equipment from Brazil.
Source: SBS

Jason Hill and his wife Ana Ferreira run an Australian business importing food, drink and cooking equipment from Brazil.

Like many companies, their future operations are clouded by the global uncertainty of the coronavirus.

"The warehouse is full and there are more containers arriving so we haven't felt it," she said. 

"But I am not sure how we will go for the orders we are placing now because these containers are from orders we placed many months ago.

"We have to keep working and do our best; and hope that in a few months time things will be better and things will be back to normal."

Mr Hill said of most concern for them is the importation of Brazilian barbecues for now-closed local eateries.

"We have had a little bit of a supply problem there. The BBQ factories have been temporarily closed in Brazil because it's not regarded as an essential service so any new orders for commercial barbecues will be delayed.

"We just hope this doesn't go on for too long and we can get the the restaurants open again when this crisis ends and then all the businesses that feed that area of the market can thrive again."

Ports Australia says it will take all necessary measures to keep supply chains running while ensuring the protection of maritime workers.

"From ships arriving to unload at our ports, right through to trucks delivering much needed food and goods to the people stacking shelves at retail shops, an unbroken supply chain is critical for community confidence at this time," a spokesman said. 

So far, no port staff member has been diagnosed with COVID-19 - a crucial concern for authorities in keeping trade flowing.

According to Dr Giovanni Di Lieto, from the Monash Business School, there will inevitably be an impact on products. 

"I don't think essentials will be missing in Australia, even in the worst case scenario of a long-term lockdown, but having said that we need to consider that imports will be severely impacted," he told SBS News.

The impacts could ripple out and affect the supply of other critical goods like medical products, forcing authorities here to fire-up some neglected local industries.

"The silver lining will be that some new opportunities will arise in manufacturing industries that were once abandoned in Australia," Dr Di Lieto said.

As panic buying finally shows signs of abating in our supermarket aisles, Australians have been told they have nothing to fear when it comes to the supply of fresh produce.

But AusVeg communications manager Shaun Lindhe said he anticipates there could be short-term price hikes until supplies reach a level where they fully meet demand.

"We grow a vast majority of our fresh produce in many different growing regions so we are very fortunate that we are not at risk of running out of fresh produce," he said.

Published 28 March 2020 at 8:42pm, updated 28 March 2020 at 9:31pm
By Gareth Boreham, Sarah Dowling
Source: SBS News