Special Report

12 Things You Need to Know About Meat Shortages in the Pandemic Era

Source: Kutredrig / iStock / Getty Images Plus

1. At least 16 meatpacking plants are currently closed

As of April 29, at least 19 U.S. meatpacking plants and five processed food plants have closed due to a shortage of workers. An estimated 5,300 plant workers across the nation have been confirmed to be ill with the novel coronavirus. Many thousands more have stopped going to work, either because they are required to quarantine at home in the face of possible exposure to the virus or simply because they refuse to labor under what many say were unsafe working conditions.

Source: Eivaisla / iStock via Getty Images

2. Millions of pounds of meat could disappear from the supply chain

John Tyson, chairman of the board of Tyson Foods, published an open letter to consumers on April 26 in the New York Times and other newspapers, warning that because of plant closures, farmers won’t be able to sell their livestock to processors. As a result, he wrote, “Millions of animals — chickens, pigs and cattle — will be depopulated.”

Source: N-sky / iStock via Getty Images

3. Yes, the slaughtering of surplus animals is called “depopulation”

Apparently, terms like “culling” and “euthanizing” aren’t quite consumer-friendly enough for the meat and poultry industry to use in describing the killing of animals that can’t be processed. The two main techniques for depopulation sanctioned by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) include suffocation with water-based foam or carbon dioxide gas combined with the shutting off of ventilation fans. The agency differentiates depopulation from euthanasia, the latter of which is considered more humane. “With depopulation,” says a USDA publication on the subject, “the welfare of the animals is given as much consideration as practical, but the situation is understood to be extenuating.”

Source: Rawpixel / iStock / Getty Images Plus

4. Activists want to save at least some chickens from depopulation

A consumer coalition has launched a campaign and a petition attempting to spare the lives of at least a small number of the roughly two million chickens scheduled to be depopulated by poultry farms on the Delmarva Peninsula, a landmass shared by Delaware, Maryland, and Virginia. The coalition’s immediate goal is to save ten chickens and transfer them to sanctuaries. “We’re hoping that those 10 chickens can snowball into saving more,” Agustina Sosa, one of the group’s founders, told Delaware State News.

5. The USDA might also be able to help save some animals

In addition to advising farmers on methods of depopulation (and disposal), the USDA is helping them find other solutions. The agency’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service has launched a National Incident Coordination Center to directly aid producers. Working with state veterinarians and other state officials, the Center is helping farmers find potential alternative markets for their animals to avoid the need to slaughter them.

Sponsored: Find a Qualified Financial Advisor

Finding a qualified financial advisor doesn’t have to be hard. SmartAsset’s free tool matches you with up to 3 fiduciary financial advisors in your area in 5 minutes. Each advisor has been vetted by SmartAsset and is held to a fiduciary standard to act in your best interests. If you’re ready to be matched with local advisors that can help you achieve your financial goals, get started now.