Study: COVID Supply Chain Issues Cost More than $11 Billion

Study: COVID Supply Chain Issues Cost More than $11 Billion

One of the sectors of the Ag community hit especially hard during the spread of COVID-19 last year was meatpacking plants nationwide. But, according to the University of California-Davis, the impact was much more severe than initially thought.

Researchers say an estimated 334,000 cases of COVID-19 are attributable to meatpacking plants, resulting in $11.2 billion in economic damage nationwide.

And lead author Tina Saitone says those numbers may be on the conservative side. She says knowing exactly how many cases each plant is responsible for is difficult, since numbers are determined on the county level, meaning there was leakage.

“There’s going to be instances where a meatpacking plant employee works in County X, but lives and does their shopping and their community type activities in County Y.” 

Which means those COVID-19 numbers were not appropriately attributed to the meat packing facility.

Some have said in light of the pandemic, the industry should move to smaller meatpacking facilities. However, Saitone cautions those advocating for smaller plants that such a move will come at a price.

“The current system has developed to operate very efficiently and provide animal based protein to consumers at a relatively reasonable price, so, if we moved to a smaller scale more geographically dispersed system, we’re actually going to be adding costs back into the meat packing sector which has evolved to eliminate them.” 

Saitone added rather than moving in that direction, it may be best for consumers and the industry to think about incorporating automation and technology.

Along those lines, Saitone says their research shows broiler plants had lower COVID-19 transmission rates compared to beef and pork facilities. However, the research did not look at that specifically.

“We suspect that the smaller more homogeneous structure, physically, of broilers that allow those plants to utilize more automation and technology allowed that sector to be more resilient and incorporate kind of social distancing and other protocols that limit the spread of COVID.”