SOUDERTON, Pa. (CNN) – Across the country, large meat processors are starting to shut down plants when employees are infected with coronavirus. Tyson, one of the world’s largest meat processors, was discontinued at the Columbus Junction, Iowa pig factory this week after more than two dozen workers hired Covid-19 there.
Tyson said it would lead cattle that were on their way to Columbus Junction to other pork farms in the region to minimize the impact on its production.
JBS USA, another important meat processor, has closed operations at its beef factory in Souderton, Pennsylvania with plans to open April 16 after two weeks. The company decided to shut down the plant after several members of the plant̵
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“This allows us to minimize the effect of COVID-19 and continue [to] follow the health department’s guidelines, ”said Jon Nash, North America’s leader for Cargill Protein, in a statement to CNN Business.
It is unlikely that consumers will see any shortcomings due to production disruptions. But the closures are devastating for some meat producers, who have been open during the pandemic. Food suppliers are important companies.
The United States has a large enough meat inventory to prevent consumer shortages, explained Christine McCracken, senior animal protein analyst for Rabobank. Processors that previously served restaurants or cafes have started selling to retailers. And some restaurants sell food, including meat, directly to customers.
“The retail is full,” McCracken said. “I do not foresee any real shortcomings for the consumer.”
The closures mark “a very small fraction of the total slaughter” in the United States, she added. “Right now, there’s really no reason to think there would be any major disruptions.”
But there is a potential for the closures to be accelerated, which can affect the system and further damage the producers.
If workers get sick, plants can stay closed longer or work at reduced speeds. Already, fewer employees are working because they may, among other things, have to stay at home to care for children or sick relatives.
“The smart money would say that it will be a matter of more facilities, we just hope they don’t overlap at the same time,” she said. “If it expands to more plants, it will be a serious issue.”
Producers “suddenly had nowhere to go,” she said. If local outbreaks involve the closure of a number of regional plants, producers who usually sell their products locally may end. For these producers “it is a crisis.”
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National Cattlemen’s Beef Association President Marty Smith outlined the situation for cattle breeders in a letter to President Trump on Wednesday.
“The rise of COVID-19 has resulted in the sharp decline in both the cattle market and the cash trade – which has resulted in significant financial challenges for our members,” he wrote, warning that “the market loans for cattle producers will only grow if packaging facilities are shut down or lacking down over a longer period. “
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