COVID-19

Meat processing plants are COVID-19 hot spots. What does that mean for U.S. food supply?

Kimberly Adams, Nova Safo, and Alex Schroeder Apr 27, 2020
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Joe Raedle/Getty Images
COVID-19

Meat processing plants are COVID-19 hot spots. What does that mean for U.S. food supply?

Kimberly Adams, Nova Safo, and Alex Schroeder Apr 27, 2020
Joe Raedle/Getty Images
HTML EMBED:
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The meat processing and packing industry is one of the latest to reveal the scale of COVID-19 disruptions. With cases in factories and farms on the rise, the U.S. Labor Department and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are issuing joint guidelines to keep workers safe — and avoid further disruption to the nation’s meat supply.

Marketplace’s Nova Safo has the latest on the guidelines.

“They’re going to sound familiar to many of us,” he told Marketplace’s Kimberly Adams. “They include recommendations such as workers standing at least 6 feet apart, not congregating in areas such as entrances and break rooms, using cloth face coverings, implementing physical barriers like plexiglass between workers and screening employees for fever as they come in for work.”

But shouldn’t that be happening already?

“Well, it’s been happening as of recently, but some workers claim that these measures have been implemented too late,” Safo said.

“Keep in mind: These plants have had to keep operating because they’re considered part of the nation’s critical infrastructure. Many of the employees at these plants work in close proximity to each other for many hours at a time, so they are susceptible.”

A number of meat processing plants around the country have closed due to outbreaks. That’s putting pressure on the nation’s meat supply.

“The chairman of Tyson Foods, one of the biggest meat processors, just took out full-page ads over the weekend in The New York Times and Washington Post warning that millions of pounds of meat could ‘disappear’ from the supply chain,” Safo said.

That’s affecting the price of meat at the grocery store. At the same time, there are reports that farms are preparing to slaughter as many as 2 million chickens because they can’t process them — there’s nowhere to take them.

COVID-19 Economy FAQs

What does the unemployment picture look like?

It depends on where you live. The national unemployment rate has fallen from nearly 15% in April down to 8.4% percent last month. That number, however, masks some big differences in how states are recovering from the huge job losses resulting from the pandemic. Nevada, Hawaii, California and New York have unemployment rates ranging from 11% to more than 13%. Unemployment rates in Idaho, Nebraska, South Dakota and Vermont have now fallen below 5%.

Will it work to fine people who refuse to wear a mask?

Travelers in the New York City transit system are subject to $50 fines for not wearing masks. It’s one of many jurisdictions imposing financial penalties: It’s $220 in Singapore, $130 in the United Kingdom and a whopping $400 in Glendale, California. And losses loom larger than gains, behavioral scientists say. So that principle suggests that for policymakers trying to nudge people’s public behavior, it may be better to take away than to give.

How are restaurants recovering?

Nearly 100,000 restaurants are closed either permanently or for the long term — nearly 1 in 6, according to a new survey by the National Restaurant Association. Almost 4.5 million jobs still haven’t come back. Some restaurants have been able to get by on innovation, focusing on delivery, selling meal or cocktail kits, dining outside — though that option that will disappear in northern states as temperatures fall. But however you slice it, one analyst said, the United States will end the year with fewer restaurants than it began with. And it’s the larger chains that are more likely to survive.

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