An explosion of COVID-19 cases is forcing some meat packing plants to shut down, further straining the U.S. meat supply chain and raising fears of potential shortages.
“Meat shortages will be occurring two weeks from now in the retail outlets,” Dennis Smith, a senior account executive at Archer Financial Services, tells Bloomberg. “There is simply no spot pork available. The big box stores will get their needs met, many others will not.”
Tyson Foods on Tuesday said it is closing the company’s largest pork plant, which has 2,800 employees and processes 19,500 hogs a day in Waterloo, Iowa. The shutdown followed an outbreak of at least 180 COVID-19 cases there.
“Despite our continued efforts to keep our people safe while fulfilling our critical role of feeding American families, the combination of worker absenteeism, COVID-19 cases and community concerns has resulted in our decision to stop production,” said Steve Stouffer, group president of Tyson Fresh Meats.
The closure follows other major shutdowns at plants run by Smithfield Foods, JBS USA, and other companies that prop up the country’s meat supply.
Processing plants can be a breeding ground for the virus because many workers spend their day side-by-side.
“We are very close. We can’t use a social distance at that place,” said a man who recovered from COVID-19 who works at Smithfield Foods in South Dakota, where almost 900 employees have tested positive.
The disruptions are cascading through meat supply chains and causing “weird” dislocations for prices, Bloomberg reports. Finished products are surging, while farmers are getting paid much less for animals.