Many industries have been affected by Covid-19, but one of the latest is the meat industry.   At least 12 of the 25 hotspots in the United States originated in meat factories.  The high rates of infections in meat processing plants have caused them to shut down.  The shutdowns have resulted in meat shortages and have caused prices to increase. 

The meatpacking industry has evolved over the years and produces 105 billion pounds annually of poultry, pork, beef, and lamb.  While the industry has grown exponentially, the reasons for its steady churn on cheap meat are now the cause of its vast spread of the coronavirus.  Some of these factors are the cramped workplaces, sharing of facilities and transportation, and the culture of under-reporting illnesses.  These conditions have allowed the meat processing plants to become breeding grounds for airborne diseases such as the coronavirus.

The meat industry is still experiencing a surge in cases, which has had an effect on production and staffing abilities.  Tyson Foods, the largest meat processor in the United States, has since transformed its facilities due to the recent pandemic.  They started offering on-site medical clinics for its employees, screening employees' temperature prior to their shifts, requiring face coverings, and installing plastic dividers between stations.  Many other companies have also followed suit, in the hopes of preventing the spread of Covid-19.

John Tyson, the chairman of Tyson Foods stated how food supply chains are vulnerable and that millions of pounds of meat will disappear from the supply chain while meat facilities are closed.  Meat plants' inability to operate at full capacity has trickled into the operations and rules of supermarkets.  Food stores are now putting a limit on how much meat a person can purchase and prices of these items have increased as a result of supply and demand.  Business Insider reports that meat prices went up 8.1% by the end of April, 2020.  A May report from CoBank, which specializes in serving rural America, warns that meat suppliers in grocery stores could shrink as much as 35% and prices could spike 20%.  The chart below depicts the available supplies of pork and beef forecasted in the coming months.

Although meat processing plants have started re-opening and enforcing stricter rules and regulations in PPE and social distancing practices, the spread of Covid-19 still remains an issue.  Supply chains have been deeply affected by the closure of meat processing plants, such as the farmers who supply to them as well as the stores that receive shipments from the plants.  The shock to these supply chains will continue to be evident in the upcoming months.

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Nicole O'Connell

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