US labor shortages devastate meat supply
US farmers and cattle producers surviving on emergency food banks
from Natural News
In April, the biggest meat companies in the U.S. – Cargill Inc., JBS USA, Smithfield Foods and Tyson Foods – had to suspend production at around 20 slaughterhouses nationwide, resulting in concerns of a potential mass meat shortage. In response, the Trump administration invoked the Defense Production Act to keep processing facilities open despite the pandemic.
However, Jackson-Smith explained that these plants can only stay open if they have a labor force to rely on.
Meatpacking plants employ one of the more vulnerable workforces in the food sector. With the consolidation of the meat processing sector, the loss of some very large processing sites could affect the majority of America’s meat supply.
According to a New York Times article, out of 800 USDA inspected slaughterhouses in the U.S., only 50 factories slaughter and process 98 percent of the beef. Most of these facilities are owned and operated by the four big meat companies.
The coronavirus outbreaks at food processing facilities confirm that food processing is a huge bottleneck in the U.S. food system. Standard regulations for food safety and health don’t always work in favor of small- and medium-scale processors and mom-and-pop retailers.
To help relieve the strain on the agricultural sector, the Trump administration announced the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program in April, which issued $16 million in payments to ranchers and farmers. Additionally, it allocated $3 billion in bulk purchases of dairy, meat and produce that would be distributed via food banks.
Many appreciate the federal aid, but some are worried that it will take more than this to help food producers recover from the pandemic.
The American Farm Bureau Federation, the leading farmer trade group, said that the aid package won’t cover livestock that is winnowed. In a statement to Reuters, the USDA reported that the payment program “is still being developed, and the agency has received more requests for assistance than it has money to handle.”
The relief may also take a while to roll out. Officials suggest that it may take at least one month for food to be packaged and redirected to foundations, food banks and other places in need of aid.
Experts have several recommendations to prevent far-reaching disruptions to the U.S. food economy in the future.
Dairy farmers dump milk onto ground
Tanaka and her team suggest that the country start moving away from concentrated food supply chains. They believe that more regional supply chains can adapt. To ensure that food products are re-channelled when a segment of the food supply chain breaks, diverse sizes and types of farms, processing plants and distributors should be made part of every regional supply chain.
Others warn that significant changes are also associated with certain financial concerns.
Vincent Smith, a professor in agricultural economics at Montana State University, explained that the main dilemma that needs to be addressed is the reforms that may cost more than the food waste being produced. Smith posited that it may better to let a farmer dispose of milk and compensate that farmer, but not all dairy farmers, for any losses.
Because of this short-term crisis, Smith concluded that the best course of action may be to offer food aid cash transfers to the households needing help and letting the private market respond to the pandemic in their own ways.