Coronavirus limits meat in grocery stores across the US

Meat across US grocery stores are suffering shortages after US President Donald Trump ordered manufacturers to stay open as COVID-19 spreads. 

President Trump issued an Executive Order on the 28th of April to keep meat manufacturing plants open and follow the Centers for Disease Control guidelines after many plants had closed due to Coronavirus spreading among its workers in a tight processing factory.

The order states that due to many meat and poultry processors concentrated in close facilities the closure of any of these plants could detrimentally harm the food supply chain in the US and impact farmers. A single large beef manufacturing plant closure could impact just the American diet staple of beef by a loss of over 10 million servings in one day.

Many meat processing plants closed in early April. On the 12th of April, Smithfield Foods closed its factory in South Dakota, one of the largest facilities to produce pork in the US, after reporting 238 of its employees tested positive for COVID-19 of its total 3,700 workers, according to their press release.

Smithfield is not alone in closures. Tyson Foods, Cargill and JBS are just a few more large meat manufacturers that closed their processing plants due to the spread of COVID-19 and will now have to reopen and continue processing meat with enhanced safety precautions due to Trump’s executive order.

Grocery store in United States have empty poultry shelves like this one with household limits. Image: Natalia Jaramillo

Union representatives are speaking out on what the executive order means for the front line workers attempting to pack meat for grocery stores across America.

“With hundreds of thousands of Teamsters working as essential workers in the food supply chain, our members are on the front lines of national efforts to keep grocery stores supplied during the COVID-19 pandemic,” said James P. Hoffa, Teamsters General President.

“Our members are proud to keep America running but they shouldn’t be subjected to unsafe working conditions in order to do so.”

Teamsters, a workers union representing over 1.4 million employees across North America wants meatpacking workers to have the highest level of protective gear, ensuring daily testing for workers and their communities.

Social distancing, paid sick leave, emergency premium pay are all considered essential too.

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Image by Pexels

Across the US grocery store customers can already see meat and poultry shortages on shelves, an impact from before the executive order went into effect and meat processing plants began to close.

“I got to Costco an hour after it opened and there was no more fresh chicken of any kind and all other meats were really low in stock,” Viviana Riveros said, a grocery store customer in Florida. “It was surprising to see how quickly the closing of plants impacted the availability of meat at grocery stores.”

Some agricultural experts predict that the meat shortages could improve by June while others believe that COVID-19 could impact supplies for over a year as meat plants learn to deal with the slower working process due to a decrease in staff infected by Coronavirus.

“I think the average purchaser’s going to notice it,” David Anderson, professor and extension economist in the Department of Agricultural Economics at Texas A&M University, told Time magazine. “I suspect that consumers will note that in the meat case in their store, there won’t be as much as normal, or as they used to see. You’ll see parts of the meat case where there’s less there, you’ll see parts of the meat case, probably, where they spread out the product — so it looks full.”

Experts believe that grocery store customers could also see a rise in price in meat, particularly popular American favourites such as ground beef and bacon. Price increase at a time when over 30 million Americans have filed for unemployment benefits could mean grocery customers are looking for ways to reduce spending and ease shopping.

The plant-based meat market around the world is set to expand from 2.8 billion pounds ($3.6 billion USD) to 3.35 billion pounds ($4.2 USD) in 2021 with North America bringing in the biggest jump in consumption, according to a Reportlinker press release.

Now more than ever people are trying to stay as healthy as possible to avoid getting sick or infected with COVID-19 so a switch to plant protein instead of meat may be beneficial to Americans trying to cut down on the monetary and health expense of meat.

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