(Updated May 5, 2020) | The U.S. may face widespread meat shortages as a result of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
Major retailers including Costco and Kroger have restricted meat purchases, likely anticipating shortages. Costco announced a limit on three packages of fresh beef, pork, and poultry per customer. Kroger is now restricting ground beef, fresh pork, and fresh poultry to two packages per customer.
Smithfield Foods—the world’s largest pork producer—announced in mid-April that it was shutting its pork-processing facility in Sioux Falls, South Dakota after workers tested positive for the coronavirus.
Representing four to five percent of U.S. pork production, the plant is one of the largest pork processing facilities in the country. The Sioux Falls facility reopened in early May following President Donald Trump’s executive order for slaughterhouses and processing plants to remain open.
Smithfield isn’t the only meat-processing plant that the pandemic has impacted. Both Tyson Foods and National Beef Packing have suspended operations in their respective Iowa meat-processing plants.
In a statement, Smithfield Foods’ president and chief executive officer Kenneth M. Sullivan warned the closures may result in severe meat shortages across the country.
“The closure of this facility, combined with a growing list of other protein plants that have shuttered across our industry, is pushing our country perilously close to the edge in terms of our meat supply,” he said.
“It is impossible to keep our grocery stores stocked if our plants are not running. These facility closures will also have severe, perhaps disastrous, repercussions for many in the supply chain, first and foremost our nation’s livestock farmers,” he added.
COVID-19 and the Dairy Industry
The nation’s meat industry is not the only market the coronavirus outbreak is affecting. Many dairy farmers have dumped milk due to a drastic decline in demand due to the pandemic.
To limit the spread of COVID-19, countless schools and restaurants across the country have been forced to close. Supermarkets have also had to enforce purchase limits on certain products—such as milk—due to panic buying. As a result of these factors, the demand for dairy products has been hit hard.
“We’re seeing a demand decrease of approximately 12 to 15 percent across the entire United States,” Jennifer Huson of the Dairy Farmers of America said during a dairy industry call this week—according to NBC News.
“And those demand changes are resulting in a lot of uncertainty,” she added.