Workers at meat processing plants across the country are falling ill due to the coronavirus, meaning shortages and potentially increased prices may follow.
According to MSN News, plants that process meat are being shut down and the worry is that consumers will be impacted by shortages and higher prices. Some suppliers have already started limiting quantities of pork and beef.
“At this time, there is more problem with supply and not price,” Tom Violante, co-owner of Holiday Market in metro Detroit told MSN. “When the supply chain runs through its current load of beef and pork the supply will be limited and the price increase will follow.”
Smithfield Foods announced the closure of one of its pork processing facilities in South Dakota. More than 200 employees at the plant have been infected with the coronavirus.
Other major food processors, such as Tyson Foods and JBS USA, also have closed meat processing plants because of the coronavirus. Smithfield CEO Kenneth Sullivan warned that shuttering plants is pushing the country’s meat supply “perilously close” to the edge.
Smithfield’s plant represents about 5% of the pork processed in the U.S., supplying 130 million servings of food per week.
“It is impossible to keep our grocery stores stocked if our plants are not running,” Sullivan said. “These facility closures will also have severe, perhaps disastrous, repercussions for many in the supply chain, first and foremost our nation’s livestock farmers. These farmers have nowhere to send their animals.”
Smithfield said it will rely on “further direction of local, state and federal officials” when considering when to reopen. The company also said its employees will be paid for the next two weeks.
Tom Super, a spokesman for the National Chicken Council, said production and processing of poultry will continue and worker safety measures are in place. Store shelves will be restocked, he said, it’s just taking a little longer than normal.
“The companies are working to divert some of the product from the freezers and product that was intended for restaurants, but that takes time and there are some challenges with that in terms of repackaging, labeling, and logistics.”
Christine McCracken, senior protein analyst for Rabobank, did have some good news, saying the Smithfield’s plant closing will have little impact on the price of pork.
“We shouldn’t see a dramatic impact or any increases in price on store shelves,” McCracken said. “But there could be some disruptions on certain products.”
Additionally, due to the cancelation of several spring sporting events including the NCAA basketball tournament, there is now a national surplus of chicken wings. Food franchises are also being hit hard during the outbreak.