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Meat shortage risk climbs with new closure

Bloomberg

The U.S. is edging closer to possible meat shortages, with another major plant taken off line.

About a quarter of American pork production and 10% of beef output has been shut down, according to the United Food & Commercial Workers, which estimates 13 U.S. plants have had closures.

Tyson Foods said Thursday that it was shutting its beef plant in Pasco, Washington, shortly after the company idled two key pork plants. Case counts continue to mount, including in Canada, where industry groups are saying they’ll probably hold back some supplies usually exported to the U.S. And the head of JBS, the world’s top meat producer, is warning of shortfalls.

Meanwhile, 100 U.S. Department of Agriculture inspectors have tested positive for the coronavirus. The workers, part of the Food Safety and Inspection Service that employs about 6,500 inspectors, have been traveling between plants with known infections to other facilities. And at least one inspector has died after apparently contracting COVID-19, according to the USDA.

“A traveling inspector bringing in the disease is our biggest worry,” said Mike Callicrate, a rancher, processor and advocate in Kansas.

Meat prices are surging on the disruptions. U.S. wholesale beef hit the highest on record. Pork bellies, the cut turned into bacon, soared 137% in the five days through Wednesday.

Things are so dire that Iowa, the biggest hog state, activated the National Guard to help protect supplies.

“What people don’t realize is in the coming months, that’s going to be one the biggest issues out there is getting the meats and provisions, for not only restaurants, I hate to say it, but grocery stores as well,” said Peter Cancro, chief executive officer of Jersey Mike’s Franchise Systems Inc.With slaughterhouses closing, farmers don’t have a place to sell their animals. That’s forcing livestock producers to dispose of them.

Shuttered or reduced processing capacity has prompted some hog farmers in eastern Canada to euthanize animals that were ready for slaughter, said Rick Bergmann, chair of the Canadian Pork Council. In Minnesota, farmers may have to kill 200,000 pigs in the next few weeks, according to an industry association.

It’s the latest cruel blow to supply chains, with food being wasted en masse at the same time that grocery store shelves are running empty. Dairy farmers are spilling milk that can’t be sold to processors and some fruit and vegetables are rotting in fields due to labor shortages or distribution disruptions

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