Disruptions and concerns over the coronavirus at meat packing and processing plants has caused a severe disruption to the supply chain, which may leave the meat aisles at supermarkets bare.

During the coronavirus pandemic, many families are now preparing more of their meals at home. According to one report, meat sales at supermarkets have gone up by 41% year-over-year for the week of April 25.

In The Wall Street Journal, one mother said, “I felt like I was being punished (with purchase limits) because I have six people in the family.”

Around the country, 20 key meatpacking plants have been forced to close temporarily because of the COVID-19 outbreak. As a result, U.S. beef and pork production has decreased by 35% when compared to the same week last year. CoBank, an agricultural lender, is reporting that chicken production has fallen by 7%.

In an effort to keep these operations up and running, the Journal reported: “President Donald Trump issued an executive order that gave the Department of Agriculture greater discretion over meatpacking plants, allowing them to continue operating and shielding them from state and local pressure to shut down due to COVID-19 outbreaks among workers. Some plants remain closed and others only partially staffed, industry officials said, reducing overall meat production.”

Now, in supermarkets across the U.S., Americans will likely end up paying more for their meat than ever before with fewer options in terms of cuts and meat variety. For many Americans, with unemployment now at 14.7%., the lack of meat and possible price increases will hit some especially hard.

Due to the warmer weather, more people will also be interested in grilling, putting another strain on the system.

Farmers in general are suffering immensely with the lack of customers, mostly in the hospitality industry and schools, interested in buying their food. According to a report in The New York Times, some farmers are destroying ripe produce and dumping millions of gallons of milk and smashing eggs since they’re unable to process it due to lack of workers and consumers.

In many ways, these are unprecedented times. For Americans, seeing supermarket store shelves bare is a new phenomenon. But the coronavirus pandemic has changed things.

Walking down a grocery store aisle, especially earlier last month, and seeing nothing but empty shelves in the soup, bakery, condiment, bread, frozen, dairy and pasta aisle is disconcerting. And though things are now leveling out a bit, it’s still difficult to find some items in the store.

According to Feeding America, before the coronavirus pandemic, an estimated 41 million or 12.3% of Americans were food insecure, which “occurs when households have difficulty providing enough food due to lack of resources.” The Brookings Institute reports that by the end of April 2020 that food insecurity had jumped to one in five households and two in five households of mothers with children 12 and under. Currently, food banks and pantries across the country are struggling to keep up with the demand.

This lack of meat availability and higher prices will only make it more difficult to keep up with the needs of hungry families.

It’s possible for families to get by without meat, and some can even argue that a vegetarian diet is better, but no family can get by without food and farmers will go out of business if they’re unable to sell product. Pray for those that are struggling both with food and economic security, and that the country can open back up and get Americans back to work.


Photo by John Cameron