As a crisis in processing unfolds across America's meatpacking facilities, President Trump earlier this week invoked the Defense Production Act to ensure plants remain open. Last week, we noted how a "rash of coronavirus outbreaks at dozens of meatpacking plants across the nation is far more extensive than previously thought," which led us to believe the next big issue was the breakdown of complex food supply chain networks. That is precisely what Tyson Foods warned in a full-page ad in the New York Times on Sunday that said, the "food supply chain is breaking." Now the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has released a new report detailing virus infections and deaths at plants, the conclusion: thousands sick and nearly two dozen dead, reported Bloomberg.
The fast-spreading virus infected 4,900 workers and left 20 dead at 115 meatpacking plants across 19 states, according to CDC data from April 9-27.
As we have previously warned, at least 12 major plants have been forced to shut down after outbreaks were reported. The CDC said there had been many challenges in mitigating the spread at processing plants.
With President Trump's executive order, meat processing plants will have to remain open. There are already some reports indicating that a plant or two could come back online in the first week of May. Keeping plants open during a worsening of the pandemic could be a recipe for disaster, as it appears this is the sacrifice that corporate America and the government are willing to make to prevent food shortages. Already, meat shortages are expected to hit grocery stores in the first half of May.
"The president's executive order will only ensure that more workers get sick, jeopardizing lives, family income, communities, and, of course, the country's food supply chain," said Kim Cordova, leader of the local United Food and Commercial Workers International Union chapter, which represents 3,000 workers at the JBS SA beef plant in Greeley, Colorado. She said the president's executive order is no solution to the current supply issues developing.
In "American Farms Cull Millions Of Chickens Amid Virus-Related Staff Shortages At Processing Plants," we noted how workers at chicken processing plants in Maryland, Delaware, and Virginia were staying home because of illness or they were too afraid to go into work because of the virus, this resulted in labor shortages, and decreased output at plants. The ripple effect of declining output or shuttering of plants crushes farmers who cannot sell their chickens. This leads to overcapacity at farms and the now culling of millions of chickens. And it's not just farmers that are crushed, because plants are producing less, food shortages develop. Just look at what has happened to beef prices this week because of plant closures:
To sum up, it's only a matter of time before processing plants automate their lines where robots cannot contract a virus, well, not an infection from humans, maybe ones from hackers...