Beef Crisis on the Horizon

Beef Crisis on the Horizon

( – The security and safety of America’s food supply is essential. It’s especially important during the COVID-19 pandemic as people self-quarantine. Non-essential workers are largely staying at home with their stockpiles of food, part of which might contain meat as a primary source of protein. While it’s a staple of many people’s diets, there’s a problem.

Meat Plants In Trouble

Over 150 of the country’s biggest meat processing plants are in areas where coronavirus infection rates are high. In those places, cases of the virus are 75% higher than in other counties. The combined output of the plants at risk account for over one-third of America’s meat supply, including pork, poultry, and beef.

One of those is a major pork processing plant in South Dakota, responsible for about 5% of the nation’s total supply, which had to temporarily shut down. Another meat plant in Sioux Falls owned by Smithfield, shut down on April 12 after over 200 cases were confirmed. Later, 900 other people tested positive. The CDC is helping to create a reopening plan.

A Tyson plant in Iowa overhauled its safety protocols and equipment after 200 workers fell ill. Plastic barriers now separate workers on the line and the company allows more time between shifts. Another of the company’s factories that processes pork in Columbus Junction had 186 workers come down with the virus. That county currently has the highest infection rate of any other with a meat processing plant.

Is There a Shortage?

There are at least 2,200 workers across 48 plants that are known to have COVID-19. Even still, according to experts, it seems that production levels are still adequate even with the virus’ spread. Processing plants are ramping up production to keep up with demand.

In some cases, meat workers are starting to produce more than the current federal limits. The US Department of Agriculture is allowing 15 poultry plants to exceed the limits of how many birds a worker can process per minute. Even with increased production, safety measures are being put into place at these facilities to ensure the supply chain isn’t impacted.

However, there’s a possibility that we could see a meat shortage at grocery stores if the virus continues to spread. For now, states are following safety guidelines set by the CDC. If the COVID-19 outbreak in areas with processing plants gets out of hand, beef may no longer be what’s for dinner.

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