Tuesday, January 11, 2022

Covid-19 infections at meatpacking plants slow production

Rising coronavirus infections among meatpacking workers "have forced meat plants to slow production and the government to replace slaughterhouse inspectors, meat companies and union officials said," Tom Polansek reports for Reuters. "Meatpacking, an early epicenter of the pandemic in 2020, is the latest sector to be disrupted by a surge in cases of the highly contagious Omicron variant, which has also left airlines, hospitals, and schools scrambling for staff."

As of Jan. 3, infections had increased over the previous two weeks in 26 of the 30 counties with the nation's largest beef production plants. The Agriculture Department "estimated beef processors killed 112,000 cattle on Friday, down about 6 percent from a year earlier and matching Jan. 3 levels that were the lowest since October. Pig slaughtering, meanwhile, was down about 5% from last year on Friday," Polansek reports. "Less slaughter capacity reduces U.S. beef supplies at a time of booming demand and means farmers must keep cattle longer in feed yards or on ranches. A sustained period of lower production could further increase high meat prices at a time of inflation fears."

It's not just the line workers getting sick: inspectors are increasingly getting infected too, and they could spread it to other plants. "USDA said it follows U.S. health guidelines and requires meatpacking workers in regions with high Covid-19 transmission to wear masks when inspectors are present," Polansek reports.

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