During World War I, American citizens were encouraged to eat less meat so that there would continue to be enough meat to sustain the troops. During World War II, meat was added to the list of rationed items, and a high number of ration points were needed to buy meat. Now in 2020, meat isn’t being rationed, and Americans are not being told to eat less meat. But we are facing a possible meat shortage.
On Sunday, April 26, 2020, Tyson Foods took out a full-page ad in the New York Times to draw attention to a potential meat shortage as the “food supply chain is breaking.”
According to the advertisement, “Millions of pounds of beef, pork and chicken will vanish from U.S. grocery stores as livestock and poultry processing plants have been shuttered by coronavirus outbreaks among workers.”
At press time, almost a third of U.S. pork processing capacity is down, with three of the largest pork processing plants in the U.S. closed. Additionally, federal reports show, “The daily cattle slaughter for the week of April 13 fell nearly 24 percent from the same period a year ago. Pig slaughter was down 13 percent. And given the most recent plant closures, those figures have likely fallen further.”
Not only is there a meat shortage, but there is also a tremendous amount of food waste as dairy farmers have to dump milk, and millions of chickens and pigs are being euthanized because there is nowhere for the food to be processed. The USDA has stepped in and plans to purchase $3 billion worth of fresh produce, dairy, and meat, and then will give the purchased goods to food banks and other organizations serving the needy rather than having even more food go to waste.
If this is the first you are hearing of the potential meat shortage, it certainly won’t be the last. Our goal today is to provide the information you need to know to prepare if it does become increasingly more difficult to find and purchase meat products.
Why a Meat Shortage May Occur
The possible meat shortage is a direct result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Unfortunately, the meatpacking plants have been hit hard by the virus since meat processing plants don’t allow for social distancing. For example, production at the Tyson Foods pork plant in Waterloo, Iowa, “had already slowed there because many of its 2,800 workers had been calling out sick, and local health authorities linked the Tyson plant to 182 [COVID-19] cases—nearly half of the county's total.” As a result, the plant was closed.
Likewise, two more of the United States’ largest pork processing plants have closed indefinitely, and slaughterhouses across the country have had operations temporarily shut down as employees have tested positive for COVID-19. Additionally, beef and poultry plants in the U.S. are only operating at 60% capacity.
If these processing plants and slaughterhouses continue to close or can’t operate at a higher capacity, we will experience a meat shortage. Fortunately, there are meat supplies in cold storage. Unfortunately, they tend to store only about two weeks’ worth of meat, and with most plants shutting down for 14 days, there will not be enough time or manpower to process enough pork, beef, and poultry to make up for lost time.
The President’s Executive Order Protecting America’s Meat Supply
The executive order was declared because the closure of meat and poultry plants will have a direct effect on the nation’s food supply chain. According to the White House Fact Sheet, “Closure of a single large beef processing plant can result in the loss of over 10 million servings of beef in a single day. Similarly, the closure of a single plant can eliminate more than 80 percent of the supply of a particular meat product—like ground beef—to an entire grocery store chain.”On the Tuesday following Tyson Foods full-page warning, the President signed an executive order “to ensure the safety of our nation’s food supply chain.” The order ensures “America’s meat and poultry processors continue operations uninterrupted to the maximum extent possible” while also ensuring worker safety according to the CDC and OSHA. The order requires plants to remain open during this critical time while also taking steps to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Unfortunately, the food supply chain was already disrupted before the executive order was declared. Therefore, American citizens should still be prepared for possible meat shortages.
What We Can Expect
You have likely already started to see some of the ways the food supply chain has been affected by COVID-19. Your grocery store may have fewer meat products to purchase. If there is meat to purchase, there may be less selection. Or limits. For instance, it is getting harder to find boneless chicken, so people are substituting it with less popular thighs and drumsticks. Similarly, consumers are being forced to buy cuts of meat they are unfamiliar with.
Of course, we should also expect to see the price of meat products rise. Bloomberg reports, “Meat prices are surging on the supply disruptions. U.S. wholesale beef has surged to a record, and wholesale pork soared almost 30% last week.” For consumers, we should expect to see prices for beef, poultry, and pork climb.
What We Can Do to Prepare
This is also a great time to support your local farmers and ranchers and purchase meat directly from them. If you have the storage space, you should consider buying a whole cow or whole pig. This is a cost-effective way to stock your freezer with meat.Rather than panicking over the possible meat shortage, take steps today to prepare. Meat can be safely frozen, so stock up on it while it is still available. In addition to purchasing meat products at your local grocery store, you can also purchase meat online from direct-to-consumer websites.
As a result of the COVID-19 shelter-in-place orders, restaurants are also selling the meat products they would have cooked and served in the dining room. For example, in South Carolina, many restaurants have created their own butcher shops to sell their excess meat.
Likewise, be on the lookout for meat producer bulk sales. For instance, the House of Raeford chicken company has been taking refrigerated trailers full of 40-pound cases of chicken products across multiple states. They are moving products they would have sold to restaurants and meeting a need. Consumers can purchase these 40-pound cases for greatly discounted prices.
Alternative Protein Sources
We need protein. Period. If we face a meat shortage, we will need to find alternative protein sources to ensure our bodies get what they need. Thankfully, there are plenty of healthy and tasty protein sources beyond meat, such as fish, beans, lentils, nuts, eggs, and peanut butter.
With preparedness on everyone’s mind and a potential meat shortage, it is no surprise that one of our current bestsellers is our Whole Egg Powder. This can of dried egg product is the equivalent of 72 large eggs and packed with protein. Another product we are fans of is our Protein Powerhouse Sprout Seeds Mix, which is a bean combination that contains adzuki, garbanzo, mung, and green peas. In just a few days, you can grow your own high protein sprouts.
Stock your freezer this weekend. Be prepared, friends.
Preparedness Advisor, My Patriot Supply