Nationwide Grocery Store Meat Shortage Is Coming

Lizzy Francis

A nationwide meat shortage is on its way, and will likely affect consumers and grocery stores across the country, experts suggest. The nationwide supply chain of meat hasn’t broken down completely — but issues in production and dozens of plants closing due to workers falling ill with COVID-19 has pushed a national food chain that already struggles to its breaking point, ordering to some food and agricultural experts.

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Although President Trump evoked the Defense Production Act via executive Order on Tuesday, ordering all meatpacking plants to stay open, according to legal officials, that order might not actually do that might and doesn’t legally compel meat and poultry producers to remain in production. But why is there a meat shortage? And will it affect your family?

Here’s Why There’s A Meat Shortage

Over the past few weeks, 4,400 meat and poultry workers across at least 80 meat production plants have fallen ill with COVID-19. The situation got so bad that at least 28 meat plants closed for one day. More meat plants are closing over time as more workers fall ill and complain of a lack of protective gear and safety standards that can keep them working while keeping them safe. 

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Tyson Foods, in particular, is at the center of the outbreak in Iowa, where over 90 percent of COVID-19 cases are tied to the meat monopoly. Nearly all of the 1,300 plus people tested in Black Hawk County, Iowa, who were positive for COVID-19 are linked to the plant. Some 13 folks have died in Black Hawk as of yesterday due to COVID. Some 2,800 workers in Des Moines are not working after a Tyson plant there closed due to the COVID-19 outbreak among workers. Other Iowa plants, like JBS, had 34 employees test positive; Prestage Foods, another 25. The problems aren’t just located in Iowa — the CDC just reported an outbreak at a Tyson beef facility in Portland, Maine. 

The problem is not just meat plants shutting down or workers getting sick, but also the fact that when the workforce is limited, less meat is processed daily. Compared to a year ago, slaughterhouses processed a million fewer cattle, hogs, and sheep in the past week than they did a year ago at the same time. This represents a real shortage in what’s coming out to stories — and it could mean that in a few weeks, it will be harder to find ground beef, chicken, or pork. The number of hogs slaughtered dropped 25 percent in just three business days. On Monday, retailers across the country were out of stock of poultry by 13.5 percent, which actually represents an increase over March 19, the week any consider to be the most extreme in the panic buying madness. 

What Families Should Do

The way that meat is sold to grocery stores and chains is actually surprising. While one grocery store down the street might have continued access to meat throughout this potential shortage, another may be out of basics or low on stock. That’s because some meat processing plants that may not have been affected by a COVID-19 outbreak have contracts with grocery stores down the street from another. If you can’t find meat at one grocery store, go check out others if it’s necessary. Don’t buy any more meat than you need to and the strain of the shortage will be lessened. If you bought and saved a lot of meat that is currently frozen, consider defrosting it and using that instead of buying more meat for the time being. The plants that have closed from COVID will eventually reopen and the supply chain will be strengthened again. 

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