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From the Ground Up: Plant Slow Downs Could Cause Pork Shortage

(KBTX)
Published: May. 14, 2020 at 8:25 AM CDT
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The Coronavirus outbreak continues to impact the U.S. food supply chain. Pork processing is down almost forty-three percent. While there is no shortage of animals ready to be harvested, closures and slowdowns at processing plants have caused a bottleneck in the pork supply. Jodi Sterle is an Iowa State Animal Science Professor.

“The first one, of course, is the plant closings and most of that has been due to workers testing positive to the Coronavirus. It’s really important to realize that the coronavirus is not transmitted through meat and your food is absolutely safe. This is more of a worker’s safety issue.”

Sterle says that although most plants are up and running now, they’re only expecting to be operating at about seventy-five percent of capacity due to changes to ensure worker safety.

“It’s a little bit different than the Beef Cattle Industry or the Dairy Industry. You can dry a dairy cow off and not milk her anymore. You can put beef cows out on pasture. It might, of course, be a land carrying capacity issue then, but with pigs, they’re raised inside, and pigs are born every day, so we’re really looking at a ten-month cycle. And that is a lot different because our pigs are getting bigger and bigger and we have no place to go with them to have them harvested.”

Domestically, about twenty-five percent of the pork is used for food services as is seventy percent of the bacon we produce.

“It’s really important to understand that we just can’t switch over lines from food service to retail and in fact, they’re even inspected differently by the government. Packaging is much larger, and it doesn’t have the nutritional info printed on packs so it can’t be sold to retail.”

Twenty-five percent of U.S. pork is exported and that has also slowed down.

“We were just picking up our export market with China after the first of the year and now that has been really taken back. We export about, over half of our hams for example to Mexico and not providing protein to feed the rest of the world has been a really big hit.”

Sterle expects some shortages of pork but with plants ramping back up doesn’t expect it to last long.