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Baby girl laying on a pink blanket laughing and wearing a onesie that reads made in Michigan Andre McDuffey
CHINA ONESIE: Little granddaughter Nora’s onesie touts her Michigan origin. Unfortunately the onesie, made by Carter, is produced in China. But it was designed in Michigan by a friend.

Is ‘Made in America’ patriotism returning?

Will consumers demand more regional production of food?

Just as the world started contracting and closing doors, my husband and I opened our hearts and welcomed a brand new era — grandparenthood. Little Nora arrived on her Grandpa Kiel’s birthday, March 11.

As a surprise, my friend Mae made and gifted me this “Made in Michigan” onesie for the new arrival. But as she was handing it to me, Mae said, “Hope you enjoy it, but I’ll never buy Carter again,” while pointing to the “Made in China” tag and explaining she seeks out products made in the U.S.

That got me wondering: Has this pandemic started to push consumers back to the “Made in America” crusade that was rampant in the mid-’80s, when anxiety was high over the loss of American manufacturing jobs and massive trade deficits?

The big unknown here is if consumers will make it a priority; and if so, at what price point and for how long?

With COVID-19 and the massive disruptions in the food supply, people have suddenly become much more interested in how their food is produced and its journey to the grocer. The push to source from within our borders may be tightening even more regionally.

The world’s biggest meat companies — including Smithfield Foods, Cargill, JBS USA and Tyson Foods — have halted operations at about 20 slaughterhouses and processing plants in North America since April, as workers tested positive for the coronavirus.

Suddenly, my Facebook friends were calling on me to ease fears of a meat shortage. I’ve always been a huge advocate for America’s safest, most affordable and abundant food supply in the world — produced by the most efficient growers on the globe.

I stayed true to my message; we have more than enough food to feed every citizen of the U.S.

But this was unprecedented, and this wasn’t about supply. I warned not to panic-buy, but I also cautioned about the possibility of regional shortages and price hikes.

‘Big is not bad, it is fragile’

This brought on discussion about the consolidation of processing facilities and the lack of more local butchers.

In an article written by the famous Temple Grandin and published by Forbes, she recalled how she’s never said “big is bad,” but rather, “badly managed is bad.” And in the wake of plant closures, she amended her saying to “Big is not bad, it is fragile.”

She explains that smaller, independent plants closed because of the transformation of the entire industry in the 1980s, from selling retailers carcasses to packing and shipping meat in boxes. Those smaller plants were in big cities, and they had nowhere to expand.

So, industry built new and massive processing facilities; a single plant may process 2,000 to 6,000 cattle per day, while a large pork plant may process 20,000 hogs per day —  each running two shifts.

When a Tyson beef plant caught fire last year, other plants — for the most part — were able to pick up the slack.

But there’s no place to go for the enormous amount of animals not being processed during this pandemic. The result, euthanasia in some cases, makes us all sick.

I agree with Grandin in that I expect a renewed interest in local networks being established in the food chain, even if it is more expensive.

As she says, “It will be less prone to disruption from floods, fires, electric power failures, storms or diseases like coronavirus or others in the future.”

It will be interesting how little Nora’s generation will recall this point in history. I hope we have it all figured out a little better than we do now. In the meantime, I’ll just enjoy her snuggles.

To read the full article by Grandin, visit  bit.ly/grandinforbes.

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