Some food industry experts are predicting coronavirus- and holiday-related hoarding may lead to another meat shortage as 2020 draws to a close.
March may seem like a lifetime ago or it may seem like just yesterday, depending on how you have weathered this strange year, but one thing that will surely remain a vivid memory are all the grocery and supply shortages we've experienced in the first months of COVID-19 lockdowns. From cleaning supplies and toilet paper to flour and yeast, staple items simply disappeared from most supermarket and big box retailers' shelves amid panic buying. (Related: 9 Restaurant Chains That Closed Hundreds of Locations This Summer.)
One important staple that was also in short supply during the first wave of the pandemic was meat. Not only were people buying more of it, but meat producers faced major disruption in their operations which amplified the shortages further. Tyson Foods, the world's second-largest processor of chicken, beef, and pork, had a staggering shortage of labor due to coronavirus infections among their workers, while the country's largest pork producer, Smithfield, had to temporarily close down some facilities for the same reason.
Over the summer, meat companies caught up with the demand—the shelves of supermarkets were stocked and the meat prices started dropping. However, some experts warn we aren't out of the woods yet, and a second meat shortage could be imminent.
There are several reasons to expect another meat shortage. First, people are again stocking up on grocery basics, and meat is very much at the top of everyone's list heading into the holidays. The second factor that could lead to a surge in meat prices and shortage of supply isn't an American problem alone, but one feared by industry watchers across the Atlantic, too, and that's a shortage of poultry workers.
According to a BBC report, there simply won't be enough workers to meet the usual demand for Christmas turkeys in the United Kingdom this year, largely because skilled seasonal workers won't be traveling from other parts of the European Union to supply the labor.
American producers have been working toward providing better work conditions for their workers. Tyson has reportedly invested in protective gear for employees and has tried to allow for more space for social distancing in their facilities. However, outbreaks in meat packing plants are always a possibility due to the nature of their assembly lines.
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