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COVID-19 outbreaks causing meat processing plants to close across the country

(WBAY)
Published: Apr. 21, 2020 at 10:43 PM CDT
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Meat processing plants are closing their doors around the country because of coronavirus cases.

We've seen a number of meat processing plants in our area become impacted by the COVID-19 outbreak.

As we reported Monday, the Brown County Health Department says the JBS beef plant on Lime kiln Road in Green Bay has the biggest cluster of cases in the area.

The health department reports the CDC, has responded to Green Bay to assist with contact tracing and testing related to the outbreak at JBS.

Salm Partners also reports 10 employees at its Denmark facility have been diagnosed with the virus.

A number of meat processing plants around the country have had to close because of coronavirus outbreaks.

Now, we're learning why what you can buy at the grocery store, and for how much, might be changing.

States are temporarily shutting down - by force or choice - plants in at least eight different states.

Smithfield Foods has closed plants in Wisconsin, as well as Missouri and South Dakota.

At that plant in South Dakota, at least 700 employees have now tested positive for COVID-19.

But, experts and farmers worry these shutdowns could lead to a shortage in meat.

"We have an abundance of meat in production right now, and milk, the thing is it's not getting through the pipe," says Randy Lackender, an Iowa hog farmer.

According to the US Department of Agriculture, when you compare the second week of April in 2019 to 2020, beef production is down nearly 20% - but the demand is up.

"The demand in hamburger or ground meat products really increased over the last month because that's what people like to cook in their homes," says Dale Woerner, a Texas Tech meat science researcher.

Woerner says consumers might need to adjust and eat meat they're not used to buying.

"We're producing a lot less meat, so we'll see less meat available for consumer, but frankly don't know noticeable to everyday consumer," says Woerner.

When asked if meat will be available, just not meat you want, he said that is a fair statement.

"Different form, or have different cuts available you're not familiar cooking with, or consuming, on a regular basis, more variety in meats buying," said Woerner.

At least 518 employees at a South Dakota Smithfield Foods plant have now tested positive.

Some plants have reopened.

In Iowa, the national beef plant reopened Monday, and a Tyson plant reopened Tuesday.

It had shut down after 200 employees got sick, and two died.

The Iowa Governor is still pushing for facilities to stay open with reduced staff.

"This isn't like a regular facility where you shut it down for two weeks. We provide a third of the nation's pork supply. About 25 million a year," said Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds. "So, if we aren't able to move them through the process, at some point, we're going to have to be talking about euthanizing hogs. And we aren't that far from it."

The plant closings have caused a back-up in the supply system, such as livestock not being harvested on time.

What this all means, while it might impact you a little at the grocery store, producers might be fighting for survival.

"Agriculture is a low margin business. Working hard make money, and frankly right now with prices the way that they are, they're losing money," says Woerner.