Meat supply chains in the U.S. have been severely affected by the coronavirus. In particular, the most hard-hit industry within the food supply chain was meat processing. Since numerous workers have tested positive for COVID-19 on multiple meat plants across the country, the entire supply chain was disrupted.

What is going on with the meat plants?

At the end of April, the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW), the largest meatpacking association in the U.S., has stated that 20 industry workers have died because of the virus, and more than 5,000 were infected or hospitalized. Meat plants were forced to shut down, as they have become the cluster of infection, which caused a lack of meat supply to retailers. According to UFCW, the factories’ closure resulted in a 25% drop in pork slaughter and a 10% drop in beef production.

How has the coronavirus disrupted the meat supply chain?

The issue became known nationwide, which has resulted in panic-buying among consumers, with all the meat products being sold out from grocery stores, fast food, restaurants, and supermarkets. The retailers have responded with setting up purchasing limits to stop overbuying. Now, with multiple meat processing plants being shut down across the country, farmers don’t have a place to sell their products. With high supply and high demand, meat supply chains suffer from a severe disruption in the processing sector.

The U.S. has the largest rate of meat consumption per capita, which clearly means a crisis in the meat supply chain can’t go unnoticed. The issue became so critical that the White House initiated the Defense Production Act to ensure the proper supply of meat in the stores.

What is wrong with America’s food supply chains?

Apparently, the disruption of the meat supply chain appears to be solely an American issue. In Europe, which has also been hard hit with the impacts of the pandemic, there are no signs of meat industry disruption. Why is that? In fact, the trouble with the U.S. meat processing industry is that it is extremely centralized and consolidated, while in the UK or Italy, meat vendors are usually small, local, and independent companies.

The monopoly of certain companies, like Tyson Foods Inc., which accounts for almost two-thirds of the entire meat processing in the U.S., has made meat supply chains hardly dependent and interconnected. Eventually, this is the reason for also making it extremely vulnerable to the damage. Hopefully, the industry will drift towards building a more resilient supply chain to prevent such a situation in the future.