By Sarah Gonzalez, Director of Communications and Digital Media
The shutdown of meat and poultry processing facilities across the country because of the spread of COVID-19 among thousands of meatpacking workers has left many farmers without anywhere to sell their livestock.
“The crisis is immediate,” wrote a bipartisan group of lawmakers in a May 11 letter to House and Senate leaders. The situation is “creating an animal welfare crisis due to overcrowding and the challenge of providing enough feed and water available to each animal,” the letter noted. “Failure to have a sensible and orderly process for thinning the herd will lead to animal health issues, environmental issues and pork producers going out of business.”
Pork producers, who typically send to market more than two million pigs each week, are particularly backlogged given pigs’ six-month growth cycle.
Jayson Lusk, the head of the Agricultural Economics Department at Purdue University, writes in his blog that meatpacking capacity is slowly coming back on-line after “taking a big hit for a couple weeks.” As of May 12, he said capacity is running at about 25 percent below last year (compared to the 40 percent reduction a couple weeks ago). Still, as the lawmakers noted in their letter, if 20 percent of processing capacity is idle, that means somewhere around 400,000 animals per week must be euthanized.
“Assistance is needed for humane euthanization and disposal, which will require the coordination of the human, animal and environmental health communities,” said the letter, which was signed by 14 farm-state senators.
The lawmakers said authority for programs at the U.S. Department of Agriculture to help with the consequences of closed processing facilities should be authorized as quickly as possible.