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Meat Processing Plants Struggle to Operate During COVID-19 Pandemic

As COVID-19 continues to spread across the country, the Trump administration faces a new threat as a result of the pandemic: meat shortages. Meat Processing Plants across the continental United States have been closing at such a fast rate, that if President Trump had not signed an executive order compelling the facilities to remain open, the United States would have seen its processing capacity reduced by nearly 80%.

Plant closures have occurred more frequently since the start of the pandemic due to the spread of the virus amongst workers, with the most recent being two Smithfield facilities in Illinois. Thousands of employees who work at such plants across the country have tested positive, and an estimated 13 processing plants have closed over the past two months.

Jeff Sindelar, an associate professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison's College of Agricultural and Life Sciences with an expertise in meat processing, observed, "We definitely can see shortage of products in the grocery store. If the larger processing plants continue to shut down or operate with limited capacity, certain products may be unavailable and others could get really expensive."

The United States, however, can find some comfort in an alternative. If it continues to see its supply chain falter, the US can turn to its meat in freezer storage. According to the USDA, there is currently 921 million pounds of chicken and 467 million pounds of boneless beef in storage, which includes ground meat as well as other premium cuts. However, the use of frozen meat to offset supply shortages would come with its own difficulties. Most of the products in cold storage are intended for use in restaurants and food service companies, not in home kitchens. These huge cuts and whole muscles would require thawing, re-butchering, and re-packaging to yield its full supply potential.

In short, although there may be difficulties in adjusting to the new reality, you'll still be able to enjoy meat on your table. To date, COVID-19 has sickened nearly 2,970,000 people worldwide and resulted in the deaths of 205,000.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the United States Army, Department of Defense, or the United States Government.


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