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Video Badger Talks video: COVID-19 and the meat supply chain

June 16, 2020 By Eric Hamilton

News stories about meatpacking workers succumbing to COVID-19 and meat shortages at grocery stores have caused some consumers to worry that the meat supply chain is about to collapse. Not quite, says Andrew Stevens, assistant professor of agricultural and applied economics, in this week’s Badger Talks video.

Meatpacking plants are essentially large refrigerators with workers packed shoulder-to-shoulder to efficiently process animals, conditions ripe for transmitting diseases like COVID-19. Dozens of workers have died, shuttering plants and sending shockwaves from livestock farmers to grocers and everyday consumers.

But the supply chain has largely held, says Stevens. While there have been some spikes in prices and diminished availability for pork and beef, the chicken supply has been less affected. The slowdown at plants has also hurt livestock farmers, some of whom have had to cull animals who couldn’t be sent to slaughterhouses.

But processors are adapting. They have increased the protective equipment available to the diverse and largely low-income workers who staff plants and are finding ways to stay open. While their capacity might be diminished for the next several months, it’s unlikely that grocery shelves will empty.