- Farmers are facing the possibility of euthanizing cattle if processing plants temporarily shutter due to mass coronavirus infections among workers.
- Oklahoma Farmers Union president Scott Blubaugh said the consolidation of corporate processing plants is creating a bottleneck effect making it difficult to deliver food to American households.
- Animal activists say cows don’t have to die. PETA president Ingrid Newkirk told the Daily Caller News Foundation that perhaps meat processors should “read the tea leaves” and switch to producing plant-based food.
Farmers are under extreme stress to deliver meat and other food products to American homes as processing plants across the country shutter over a spate of coronavirus-related infections. Farmers are faced with taking drastic measures if plants remain offline.
President Donald Trump is evoking the Defense Production Act to compel mega food processing plants to stay open, calling them critical infrastructure. He signed an executive order Tuesday to mandate the plants remain open as a pandemic threatens to upturn large sections of society. Meanwhile, farmers say they are facing the possibility of euthanizing cattle.
“The emotional and economic consequences for hog farmers are especially severe right now,” Sarah Little, vice president of communications for the North American Meat Institute, told the Daily Caller News Foundation.
Little’s group is the primary advocacy group for the meat producing industry, which is wrestling with headwinds as plants close across the nation.
Meat processing companies are sending up red flags, while animal rights activists say they have a better option: eat plants.
Smithfield Foods Chief Executive Ken Sullivan, who issued a warning call recently about the decision to indefinitely scuttle his South Dakota plant. “It is impossible to keep our grocery stores stocked if our plants are not running,” Sullivan said in an April 12 statement after officials began assessing the plant.
Roughly 238 Smithfield employees had active cases of the virus at the time, making up about 55% of South Dakota’s total, officials say.
Other processing companies say the disturbances could put a serious crimp in the country’s food supply and lead to shortages.
Tyson Foods, for instance, issued dire warnings in recent days as officials close down a select number of plants over coronavirus infection concerns. (RELATED: Sen Hawley Calls For A Criminal Probe Into Amazon, Says Bezos’s Juggernaut Is An ‘Existential Threat’ To Small Businesses)
Tyson Foods’ board chairman John Tyson wrote in an ad Sunday in the The New York Times that farmers will be left in the dust and “millions of animals — chickens, pigs and cattle” — will be taken out of the market as a result of Tyson processing center closures. Tyson Foods closed plants in Logansport, Indiana, and Waterloo, Iowa, where at least 182 cases of the virus originated.
Little echoed Tyson’s concerns. “These producers are faced with euthanizing tens of thousands of pigs, perhaps more, in their care because there is nowhere to send them to be harvested and put into the food supply,” she said. “Taking a meat or poultry plant offline creates a serious bottleneck in the food supply chain.”
Farmers have a slightly different perspective. Scott Blubaugh, the president of the Oklahoma Farmers Union, believes many of the bottlenecks forcing farmers to take such measures are a result of years of consolidating meat processors such that now the industry is dependent on a handful of companies.
“We’re rationing those food products, and at the same time we’re dumping milk on the ground because the processors can’t handle [processing and distributing] it,” Blubaugh told CNN host W. Kamau Bell in an April 24 interview. “We’re seeing these big, corporate-owned facilities have to euthanize animals because their barns are all full and they have new [animals] born every day.
Blubaugh’s concerns have reached the highest levels of government. Sens. Josh Hawley of Missouri and Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin wrote a letter to the Federal Trade Commission Wednesday asking the independent government agency to probe the meat processing industry.
“The domination of a select few companies in the American meatpacking industry is cause for serious concern,” they wrote before noting that Tyson Foods, Cargill, JBS S.A. and Smithfield Foods effectively own 85% of the meat market. The FTC should badger and prod the industry with questions “about major meatpacking firms’ conduct, pricing, and contracting,” Hawley and Baldwin added.
Animal rights activist group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals is calling on Smithfield and Tyson to etch out a more radical position.
“Filthy factory farms, slaughterhouses, and live-animal markets are breeding grounds for disease, and PETA is calling on Tyson, Smithfield, and others that are complaining about their bottom lines to go entirely vegan now—we’d even help cover the cost of retraining their employees,” PETA president Ingrid Newkirk said in a statement to the DCNF.
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