Coronavirus meat shortage: “food supply chain is breaking”

meat shortage coronavirus

There could soon be a meat shortage in the U.S. due to the coronavirus pandemic. In a full-page ad in the New York Times, Tyson Foods Chairman John H. Tyson warned that “the food supply chain is breaking.”

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Warning about a meat shortage due to coronavirus

He also said that grocery stores will have a “limited supply” of Tyson products available until they are able to open the facilities they have closed due to COVID-19.

“As pork, beef and chicken plants are being forced to close, even for short periods of time, millions of pounds of meat will disappear from the supply chain,” he wrote.

He also warned about food waste as farmers “simply will not have anywhere to send their livestock to be processed, when they could have fed the nation.”

Tyson temporarily closed a pork processing plant in Waterloo, Iowa last week after over 180 COVID-19 infections were linked to the plant. According to NBC News, hundreds of employees refused to go in because they were worried about catching the coronavirus.

Today reports that an unnamed worker at the Tyson plant said ambulances were coming to the facility in connection with the coronavirus. However, a spokesperson said they were unaware of any ambulances visiting the plant due to COVID-19. NBC News was not able to independently verify that ambulances were at the plant.

Other plants also contribute to meat shortage

Tyson isn’t the only meat processor to close plants due to the coronavirus. Smithfield Farms, which is one of the biggest pork producers in the country, said earlier this month that it was shuttering one of its South Dakota processing plants for at least two weeks. The company said at least 300 workers at the facility tested positive for COVID-19.

A JBS USA plant in Colorado has also been closed due to the coronavirus, further increasing concerns about a nationwide meat shortage. Tyson’s Iowa pork plant and pork processing plants in Minnesota and South Dakota all closed indefinitely this month. Together, the three plants contribute 15% of the nation’s pork production, according to Business Insider.

According to the Associated Press, meat processing plants employ thousands of workers who carve meat side by side, making social distancing essentially impossible. Thus, even though companies have taken steps to reduce the spread of the virus, the risk of catching it is still high for workers at meat processing plants.

The number of companies with infected workers has been increasing, making a meat shortage seem even more likely. A Purdue University economist told the AP that the plant closures should cause a meat shortage immediately, but that “it’s a very fluid and volatile situation to keep an eye out for in the days to come.”

Chickens to be euthanized as supply chain breaks down

Closures at the nation’s meat processing plants aren’t the only sign that meat shortages could be on the way. Business Insider reports that worker shortages have led a poultry processing plant in Delaware to euthanize 2 million chickens.

Delmarva Poultry said it considered other options like “allowing another chicken company to transport and process the chickens and taking a partially processed product to rendering facilities to utilize for other animal feed.” However, it decided to euthanize the chickens, saying that if it didn’t do something, “the birds would outgrow the capacity of the chicken house to hold them.” The company also said it will use “approved, humane methods” to euthanize the chickens.

Delmarva farmers raised 609 million chickens last year, so 2 million represents just a small percentage of that total. However, the euthanization demonstrates what Tyson’s chairman said about the food supply chain breaking.

Meat shortage could be weeks away

Bloomberg reported on Friday that one-third of the pork capacity in the U.S. is now down, and experts warn that domestic meat shortages are now only weeks away. U.S. facilities aren’t the only ones closing down due to the coronavirus.

Brazil, which is the top exporter of chicken and beef in the world, reported its first major closure as a poultry plant operated by JBS SA shut down. Some operations in Canada have also been shut down, including a poultry plant in British Columbia. The U.S., Canada and Brazil together contribute approximately 65% of global meat trade.

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