In an attempt to address the impending shortage of meat in the United States, President Trump signed Defense Production Act to force meat processing plants to stay open. The order deemed such facilities as part of our critical infrastructure and ordered them to stay open regardless of the Coronavirus. So far, it hasn’t worked.
On Monday May 5th, Tyson Foods announced during an investor call that pork production has now fallen 50%. Some analysts believe it may actually be as high as 75% industry-wide. Beef supplies are being similarly affected.
Wendy’s Runs Out Of Beef
CNN reports that Wendy’s Restaurants have begun shutting down because they are no longer able to obtain beef to put on their hamburgers. Their analysts estimate that around 1,000 Wendy’s are now being closed. Nationwide that accounts for around 18% of their locations or one in five restaurants closed due to beef shortages.
Of the locations that remain open Wendy’s says some menu items will be “temporarily limited at some restaurants in this current environment”. They insist they’re trying to fix the problem saying, “We’re working diligently to minimize the impact to our customers and restaurants, and continue to work with our supplier partners to monitor this closely.” But given that this is a problem of meat shortages and not a problem in the Wendy’s corporation itself, it may not be something they can fix.
Because meat production is regional, the problem is particularly dire in some areas. Analysts say in states like New York, Michigan, or Ohio around 30% of Wendy’s locations are now out of fresh meat. Meanwhile other states like Arizona and Nevada haven’t been affected at all.
Meat Packing Plants Are Shutting Down
John Tyson the chairman of Tyson Foods, one of the nation’s biggest meat producers, confirmed on April 27th that “The food supply chain is breaking.” He explained to the NY Times, “There will be limited supply of our products available in grocery stores until we are able to reopen our facilities that are currently closed.”
Tyson went on to elaborate on their current problems, “In addition to meat shortages, this is a serious food waste issue. Farmers across the nation simply will not have anywhere to sell their livestock to be processed, when they could have fed the nation… Millions of animals — chickens, pigs and cattle — will be depopulated because of the closure of our processing facilities.”
Meanwhile Kenneth Sullivan, CEO of the world’s largest pork processor Smithfield Foods says of his company’s plant closures: “is pushing our country perilously close to the edge in terms of our meat supply… It is impossible to keep our grocery stores stocked if our plants are not running. These facility closures will also have severe, perhaps disastrous, repercussions for many in the supply chain, first and foremost our nation’s livestock farmers. These farmers have nowhere to send their animals.”
Meanwhile companies like Smithfield feel they have no choice, under the threat of lawsuits from Unions if they reopen to feed the nation.
Meat packing plants across the United States have started shutting down, as the Coronavirus begins to spread through their workforce. The Meat Packing Union estimates that as of April 24, 2020 more than 25% of the pork production in the US has been stopped.
Meanwhile 10% of the US beef production has also been shut down, with more closures happening every day. On Thursday April 24 for instance, Tyson Foods shut down its beef production facility in Pasco, Washington indefinitely while workers are tested for the Coronavirus. That plant in particular feeds 4 million people a day with the meat produced there.
As meat packing facilities close, farmers have nowhere to send their livestock for slaughter. As a result, they may be forced to simply kill them themselves and dump the bodies. Bloomberg predicts that up to 200,000 hogs may be killed just in the coming week, as farmers find themselves unable to sell them and also unable to continue floating the costs to feed them. That means that even if the meat packing industry resumes operation, there may not be the supply they need to get back to work.
Fear Of Shortages Grows
Canada has announced they may stop shipping meat to the United States, out of fears of their own shortages. They’re keeping what they have to themselves.
According to analysts there is now enough meat in frozen storage to last two weeks, after which most predict we’ll start seeing shortages unless operations at these plants resume immediately. “Meat shortages will be occurring two weeks from now in the retail outlets,” analysts at Archer Financial Services told Bloomberg. And as of this moment, it seems more likely that more plants will close, rather than that closed plants will reopen.
Grocers and restaurants are starting to voice concern about their supplies. Raley’s grocery store chain in California tells WSJ.com they’re already only about to get about 80% of their usual chicken orders. Peter Cancro, chief executive officer of Jersey Mike’s Franchise Systems Inc. says, “What people don’t realize is in the coming months, that’s going to be one of the biggest issues out there – is getting the meats and provisions, for not only restaurants, I hate to say it, but grocery stores as well.”
“We haven’t seen a situation in our lifetime where the industry has contracted as quickly as we have seen in the last month,” says Will Sawyer an economist specializing in meat production talking to the Wall Street Journal.
Combatting Potato Waste In Belgium
In America the coronavirus lockdowns mean we may have to worry about running out of meat (more on that further down). In the country of Belgium, their biggest food problem is having too many french fries.
Belgium’s government is launching a campaign asking citizens there to do their patriotic duty by eating french fries at least twice a week according to CNBC. They need the help of their citizens bellies in order to avoid wasting massive quantities of potatoes.
Belgium’s national dish is something called Fritas, which is basically twice fried potatoes. In other words, they like french fries. So the country naturally produces a lot of them. But with the coronavirus lockdown in play demand for potatoes, specifically frozen french fries, has plummeted and 750,000 tons of potatoes are going to go bad unless some real patriots get to work and start eating.
So while the rest of us may be left fighting over toilet paper, in Belgium the best thing people there can do to combat the coronavirus is to eat a lot of french fries. As soon as this crisis is over… I’m immigrating to Belgium.