Meat Industry Contends With Illness

Processors are trying to get plants up and running, but more employees are falling sick with COVID-19.

June 10, 2020

SPRINGDALE, Ark.—Meat shortages might become worse, as meat industry workers continue to fall ill with COVID-19, the Washington Post reports.

Tyson Foods, the biggest U.S. meat processor, has incorporated onsite medical clinics, initiated employee fever screenings, installed plastic shields between workstations and mandated face masks, but workers are still contracting the novel coronavirus.

The meatpacking industry continues to see COVID-19 cases increase, even though only part of the industry’s labor force has returned to work. That has left the nation’s meat supply faltering as the summer grilling season begins.

A CoBank May report warned that grocery store meat supplies could drop by as much as 35%, with prices soaring 20%. The impact of the current slowdown might be even “more acute later this year,” as ripples spread to the entire U.S. agriculture supply chain. So far, supermarkets have been able to meet most of the consumer demand because of the meat already on tap in March when the pandemic heated up, but the CoBank report indicated those supplies are going fast.

In late April, President Donald Trump signed an executive order to keep meat processing plants open. However, during the past 30 days, more than half of the 30 meat processing plants closed because of COVID-19-related issues, leaving a strain on the supply chain. “The safety of our team members is paramount, and we only reopen our facilities when we believe we can safely do so,” said Gary Mickelson, Tyson’s director of media relations.

So far, the industry’s efforts have slowed the spread of the virus. During the past month, the number of COVID-19 infections at JBS, Smithfield Foods and Tyson Foods rose from over 3,000 to more than 11,000. Four of the reopened plants registered more than 700 COVID-19 cases.

Coronavirus Resources

NACS has compiled resources to help the convenience retail community navigate the COVID-19 crisis. For news updates and guidance, visit our coronavirus resources page.