‘COVID is one of the straws that is breaking the meat industry’s back’
According to experts, the ailing meat sector could face losses of around $20 billion this year due to the coronavirus pandemic, CNBC reported.
The pandemic not only hit the supply chain in terms of restaurants and schools being closed but also the meat processing plants, which soon became hotbeds of the virus.
Nearly 20 plants had to be shut down to contain the spread including the Tyson Foods plant in Waterloo, Iowa, its largest pork processing facility. Other major impacted meat plants included JBS, Sanderson Farms, Hormel Foods, National Beef and Smithfield Foods.
These disruptions led to other ramifications. With meat supply shortages, wholesale meat prices started to rise and livestock prices dropped 20%-30%.
More importantly, producers left with a surplus of live animals with nowhere to sell started to cull herds.
“I’m not sure anybody really understood sort of how to be prepared. These meatpacking plants, by their very nature, are extremely difficult to manage a human disease like this,” said Oklahoma State University’s livestock marketing specialist Derrell Peel.
Although President Donald Trump’s invoking the Defense Production Act to keep meat plants running and supplies secure saw wholesale prices started to drop and livestock prices rising by mid-May, the move has been slammed by advocacy groups as counterproductive since safety of workers has being highly jeopardized
In addition to risking workers’ lives during the pandemic the meat industry is also vulnerable to disease risks within livestock. Several factory farms have been plagued with several endemic and re-emerging infectious animal diseases, including African Swine Fever (ASF), Swine flu and Avian flu.
Jeremy Coller, founder of FAIRR and CIO of Coller Capital told FoodNavigator: “Factory farming is both vulnerable to pandemics, and guilty of creating them. It’s a self-sabotaging cycle that destroys value and risks lives.
“To avoid causing the next pandemic, the meat industry must tackle lax safety standards for food and workers alike, closely confined animals, and overused antibiotics. This will disrupt a supply chain already cracking from fundamental land, water, and emissions constraints.
“The meat industry’s “food chain” was breaking long before it took an ad in the Washington Post about it. COVID is one of the straws that is breaking the meat industry’s back.”
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