Coronavirus US: Meat shortages possible ‘by end of the WEEK’

Grocery stores could see meat shortages by the end of this week, according to experts, after least 13 plant staff died from COVID-19 and 5,000 called out sick. 

Meat processing plants across the United States have been forced to shutter amid coronavirus outbreaks. The chairman of Tyson Foods warned Sunday that ‘the food supply chain’ is breaking.

And with staff shortages and nowhere to ship the animals, farmers are now facing slaughtering their stock. Around 700,000 pigs cannot now not be processed each week and ‘must be humanely euthanized’, officials in Iowa say. 

Livestock analyst Dennis Smith, with Archer Financial Services, told NBC:  ‘My guess is that about one week out, perhaps around May 1, shortages will begin developing at retail meat counters.’     

Grocery stores could see meat shortages by the end of this week after least 13 plant staff died from COVID-19 and 5,000 called out sick. An empty chicken and poultry food shelf is pictured on March 13, 2020 at Whole Foods Merket in Vauxhall, NJ.

Meat processing plants across the United States have been forced to shutter amid coronavirus outbreaks. The chairman of Tyson Foods warned that ‘the food supply chain’ is breaking

Walmart and Costco have already been planning for meat shortages, according to reports. People wait in line to enter Food Bazaar Supermarket on April 10 in the Bronx, N.Y.

Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds, along with both U.S. senators from the state, sent a letter to the Trump administration pleading for financial help and assistance with culling animals.

‘There are 700,000 pigs across the nation that cannot be processed each week and must be humanely euthanized,’ said the April 27 letter.

The Delmarva Poultry Industry said that every poultry plant on the Delmarva Peninsula has struggled with a reduced worker attendance. 

As a result two million chickens will be killed in Delaware and Maryland and not processed for meat, they say. 

The president on Tuesday retweeted a post which read: ‘First, there is no shortage of meat destined for the grocery store shelf. It might take stores longer than usual to restock certain products, due to supply chain disruptions. 

‘But we have many millions of pounds of meat in cold storage across the nation.’ 

Despite that Walmart and Costco have already been planning for meat shortages, according to The Wall Street Journal. 

The world’s biggest meat companies – including Smithfield Foods Inc, Cargill Inc, JBS USA and Tyson Foods Inc – have halted operations at about 20 slaughterhouses and processing plants since April as workers fall ill.  

Millions of pigs, chickens and cattle will be euthanized because of slaughterhouse closures, limiting supplies at grocers, said John Tyson, chairman of top U.S. meat supplier Tyson Foods. 

And Terry Reilly, a senior commodity analyst, said: ‘There are likely to be (meat) shortages in select parts of the country.’ He says fresh meat will be the real challenge.     

Brett Stuart, president of Denver-based consulting firm Global AgriTrends, told The Detriot News: ‘Restaurants in a week could be out of fresh ground beef.’  

Jersey Mike’s CEO Peter Cancro told Bloomberg: ‘We’re backing it up already because of the coming – we feel – the coming shortages.’

And President of Arnold’s Meats Larry Katz told Western Mass News: ‘This is the week we’re supposed to see a lot of shortages.’    

The Tyson Foods pork processing plant in Columbus Junction, Iowa; the plant has been shut down since April 6

Orange barricades and a locked gate sit a the entrance to the employee parking lot at the Smithfield pork processing plant in St. Charles, Illinois. According to reports the plant was ordered closed by the Kane County Health Department after receiving complaints about social distancing and cleaning from plant workers

With the pandemic hobbling the meat-packing industry, Iowa farmer Al Van Beek had nowhere to ship his full-grown pigs to make room for the 7,500 piglets he expected from his breeding operation. 

The crisis forced a decision that still troubles him. He ordered his employees to give injections to the pregnant sows, one by one, that would cause them to abort their baby pigs.  

As the United States faces a possible food shortage, and supermarkets and food banks are struggling to meet demand, the forced slaughters are  said to be becoming more widespread across the country. 

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) said late Friday it is establishing a National Incident Coordination Center to help farmers find markets for their livestock, or euthanize and dispose of animals if necessary.   

Even as livestock and crop prices plummet, prices for meat and eggs at grocery stores are up. The average retail price of eggs was up nearly 40 per cent for the week ended April 18, compared to a year earlier, according to Nielsen data. 

Mike Ver Steeg sells around 75 per cent of his hogs to Smithfield. He said he is concerned with what he’ll do with that stock now as he experiences the effects of the coronavirus

Average retail fresh chicken prices were up 5.4 per cent, while beef was up 5.8 per cent and pork up 6.6 per cent.             

Companies say they are checking workers’ temperatures, working with local health officials and taking other steps to prevent the spread of the virus.

It is unclear how soon meat processing plants may reopen.

Five workers at the JBS meat plant in Colorado have died from coronavirus, it was said Sunday. The facility had been closed for nine days but reopened last Friday. 

‘There will be limited supply of our products available in grocery stores until we are able to reopen our facilities that are currently closed,’ John Tyson said in a release published on Sunday.

‘In addition to meat shortages, this is a serious food waste issue. Farmers across the nation simply will not have anywhere to sell their livestock to be processed, when they could have fed the nation,’ he said. 

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