Meat processing plant woes have ripple effect

Hundreds of thousands of hogs raised by farmers to provide Americans with ham, bacon and other meat products will not make it to the slaughterhouse unless ways are found to cure a nasty side-effect of COVID-19. This unsettling problem is one that hits close to home here in Martin County, where pork production is a major industry.

The issue is that a number of meat processing plants in the region have been shut down because of the disease. They are being closed after becoming coronavirus hot spots, with numerous workers coming down with the disease.

This has resulted in a break in the food supply chain, involving not just hogs but also cattle and poultry. With no processing plants to accept their livestock, some farmers already have begun killing them.

Why not just keep them on the farm? Because our ultra-efficient agriculture sector has become something of a victim of just-in-time production schedules. Farmers plan in terms of feed, pasture, veterinarian services, livestock pens and shelters, and a variety of other factors, to ship out stock ready for slaughter as soon as they are ready. Then, another generation of animals comes in. Farmers simply cannot handle retaining a large number of animals that were supposed to go to a processing plant.

That inflicts a crushing blow on some farmers. It affects processors’ finances. And it interrupts the flow of meat products to consumers. Shortages of some meat products already are being felt.

The scale of the meat industry is one obstacle. A Sioux Falls plant involved normally ships about 100 million servings of pork products every week. Closure of that one facility took a giant bite out of the nation’s meat supply.

And keeping hundreds of meat processing workers packed into a single plant safe from COVID-19 presents a challenge.

This is a COVID-19 disaster that, if not beaten, will have both immediate and long-lasting adverse effects.


Today's breaking news and more in your inbox

I'm interested in (please check all that apply)