COVID-19 Has Pork Industry in Dire Straits
Americans consume about 7.5 billion pounds of meat per month. That’s almost 23 pounds of pork, beef and poultry for each person. But National Pork Board CEO Bill Even says COVID-19 is having ramifications on getting that protein through the supply chain.
“We’ve got about one-third of U.S. monthly meat demand sitting in cold storage inventory now able and ready to go into the retail supply chain. But, the fundamental problem we’re seeing with plant slowdowns and some temporary closures that we’ve seen in Iowa and South Dakota, is, on the pork side, that these plants are going to cause supply chain disruption. Our logistics chain has been screwed up now for a month, and these things are just going to continue to add to it.”
National Pork Producers Council president Howard “A.V.” Roth says the pork industry needs some help.
“COVID-19 has had a sudden and devastating impact on U.S. hog farmers. We are in crisis and need immediate government intervention to sustain a farm sector that’s essential to the nation’s food supply.”
As pork processing plants have slowed production or shut down entirely, hogs are backing up on farms across the country. Labor shortages on U.S. pork farms are only making the problem worse. Roth says things are getting so backed up that farmers may have to start euthanizing their hogs.
“Absent immediate and significant government intervention, sadly, it’s true that euthanizing is a question that’s going to come up on farms. As a pork producer, we care about our animals. The last thing we would ever want to do is euthanize one, and we are going to do everything in our power to make sure that we don’t do that, so that you can have pork on your plate tonight.”
Michael Formica is Assistant Vice President of Domestic Affairs and Counsel at NPPC. He says one thing that may help is the Environmental Protection Agency is temporarily allowing farmers to have more than the permitted number of animals on their farms.
“All of these farms are permitted for a certain number of animals. If they exceed certain thresholds, they’re required to go through new permitting. We reached out to EPA and requested a waiver of these thresholds during the time that we’re facing the emergency, and thankfully, EPA granted that a couple of weeks ago, so that is a tool that’s available.”
Roth says the NPPC has a list of things it needs from the government to bring some stability back to the industry.
“Over $1 billion in pork purchases by USDA to clear out a backed-up meat supply, supplementing food bank programs facing increased demand due to rising unemployment. These purchases should accommodate pork products packaged for restaurants and other segments of the foodservice market. Direct payments to producers without eligibility restrictions. We also hope to see China remove retaliatory tariffs on U.S. pork. Removal of punitive tariffs would get us back on a level playing field with international competitors.”
Pork Checkoff’s Even said every effort is being taken to address this current logistical issue.
“We’ve got the slack in the chain to handle this and consumers need to know that there’s no shortage of meat in the country and that food and meat is perfectly safe to consume and eat and handle. But, these ongoing issues with plant slowdowns are really going to start to compound the ripple effect here in the U.S. And, we’re working very closely with all of our producers and our producer board, talking with the packing industry, as well as many other folks, to make sure that we are offering solutions, the best we can, to these problems.”