COVID Cripples Food Supply Chain

COVID Cripples Food Supply Chain

( – On Sunday, Tyson Foods took out a full-page ad in the New York Times to warn Americans that the food supply chain is “breaking” because of its workers contracting COVID-19. On April 22, Tyson Foods shut down a sizable pork-processing plant in Iowa. It also temporarily shut down plants in Indiana and Washington.

However, Tyson isn’t the only meat company to close processing locations. Other plants that closed temporarily include a Smithfield pork plant in South Dakota and a JBS beef plant in Colorado.

Meat plants employee thousands of people who work side-by-side, making social distancing nearly impossible. Every day, the list of workers infected with COVID-19 at meat-processing facilities continues to grow. Economists note that closures shouldn’t cause immediate meat shortages or price jumps at the grocery store. The situation could change quickly, though.

According to the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) union, at least 10 meat-packing workers and 3 food processing workers died nationwide from the virus. Also, 5,000 meatpackers and 1,500 food processors have been directly affected by the illness. The UFCW claims it’s the biggest meatpacking and processing union in the country. It represents approximately 80% of beef and pork workers and 33% of poultry workers nationwide.

Tyson Continues Ads

Tyson Foods’ Sunday ad in the New York Times said the supply chain is “vulnerable” and confirmed only a “limited supply of our products” are available due to the plant closings.

In addition to Tyson Foods, the CEO and president of Smithfield Foods warned that the consequences of closed plants could be “severe, perhaps dangerous.” Smithfield Foods also said that the supply of meat could struggle to meet demand as plants struggle to keep workers healthy. Most meat-processing plants are now running at reduced levels of production, which may put more strain on the food supply.

Food Waste a Serious Concern

Severe problems that farmers face across the country partially stem from meat plants reducing production or closing down. They will have no place to sell their livestock if processing plants can’t keep up with production. Tyson wrote in the ad that millions of animals — cattle, pigs, and chickens — will be euthanized to bring the population down if plants have to close.

The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) says it is working with plants to ensure the food supply chain remains operational while maintaining food safety. However, the USDA has been widely criticized for allowing millions of pounds of meat to rot that could have been sent to food banks that are running low on supplies due to growing demand.

On its blog, Tyson Foods posted the full ad. In it, the company said it has a responsibility to feed the nation and the world amid doubt and fear of the unknown. While it’s a challenge, the company says they are up to it.

By Don Purdum, Freelance Contributor

Copyright 2020,