Special Report

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

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6. Plant closures have resulted in a 25% decline in pork production

As of April 28, according to Bloomberg, processing plant shutdowns have wiped out a quarter of the nation’s pork-processing capability and 10% of that for beef. Critics of the protein industry cite the fact that about two-thirds of beef production and a large percentage of pork and chicken processing is concentrated in the hands of three companies — Tyson Foods, JBS SA, and Cargill Inc. (Smithfield Foods is another major pork producer). According to a statement from the White House, the shutdown of a single large meatpacking plant can result in the loss of ten million servings of beef in a single day.

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7. Despite production declines, there’s still plenty of meat

According to a blog published by the USDA, “Currently, the outlook for domestic production of agricultural commodities, including cereals, meat and dairy is very good. We have sufficient quantities to not only feed our country but maintain robust exports….” Any shortages consumers might encounter, says the agency, are likely due to a sudden increased retail demand for certain products, and supplies should normalize in time. The USDA also currently maintains an inventory of about 925 million pounds of beef, 662 million pounds of pork, and 491 million pounds of chicken, frozen in commercial and public storage.

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8. President Trump has ordered meatpacking plants to remain open

Another factor that will likely help stave off any lasting meat shortages is the executive order signed April 28 by President Trump, compelling processing plants to remain open under the Defense Production Act. Closures, he said, “threaten the continued functioning of the national meat and poultry supply chain.” The United Food and Commercial Workers Union and other groups have protested the order, saying that it puts employees at risk and may pose safety issues for the food supply itself.

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9. The way we raise meat might actually spawn pandemics

Some 90% of the world’s meat supply and about 99% of America’s is raised on factory farms. Gene selection in factory-farmed animals (to produce traits like larger chicken breasts), say experts, means that viruses can spread easily between animals without encountering genetic variations that might halt its progress. This potentially affects human beings, too; viral infections originating in both chickens and pigs have been responsible for such pandemics as avian and swine flu. Excessive use of antibiotics on animals is another issue, leading to antibiotic resistance on the part of consumers, an issue for pandemics that are bacterial rather than viral in nature.

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10. We might have to start cutting up and boning our own chicken

One shortage we might actually be seeing in the near future is one of chicken parts, as opposed to whole birds. According to NPR reporter Dan Charles, “the different chicken parts we’re used to…take more labor to cut up…[and]…when there’s less labor available in the processing plants, we may have to do a little more labor at home.” The same principle applies to boned-out chicken thighs, breasts, etc. Canadian producers are already shifting away from deboning chickens, since many suppliers are operating with less than half of their normal workforce.

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