The global outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic has led to the U.S. meat supply crumbling so drastically that Tyson Foods, a leading meat producer in America, has closed a number of factories, warning that the food supply chain is at breaking point.
The industry was predicted to report record-breaking production levels, with economic growth and low unemployment figures driving demand for meat products. However, America’s farms are now full of animals raised for meat production, with nowhere to go. The closures of meat processing plants across the country have led to a drop in beef production of almost 25% year-over-year, with pork production also falling by 15%.
Factory closures have followed the positive testing of hundreds of workers, from leading meat producers across North America. The coronavirus spreads so quickly on these sites due to the close proximity that staff work in all day.
Experts have warned shoppers that they can expect to see extended shortages of options in stores, with price rises accompanying them. As meat production lines continue to struggle to move at all, some meat shortages could last for as long as a year. The real bottleneck is in packaging and processing, which is where the price increases come in. This could lead to a potential rise in demand for alternative protein sources, as common meat products experience disruption.
In a bid to reduce the disruption as much as possible, President Donald Trump signed an executive order on Tuesday night to keep meat plants open. The decision has been met by criticism, with workers believing that the order fails to take into consideration their own personal health and safety.
At least 20 workers have already died from complications due to the coronavirus, and 22 plants around the country have been closed. Trump declared that workers are part of a “critical infrastructure,” as he noted that the country is working hard to ensure the safety of its food supply chain. The issue is, if factories can’t ensure they are operating safely, then workers will not be able to restart the economy.
In addition to the decision to reopen the factories, President Trump has also invoked an act which will not require facilities to adhere to CDC guidelines. These meat-processing plants were dangerous hotspots before their closures, and it is hard to imagine anything will change if CDC guidelines aren’t followed.
The question must be asked, is it worth reopening these facilities if the workers will continue to get sick? If nobody can work on the production lines due to widespread outbreaks of the virus, will there be any benefit to the reopening?
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