Experts say U.S. could be just weeks away from meat shortages

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Backyard grill-masters be warned: Plant shutdowns are leaving the U.S. dangerously close to meat shortages as coronavirus outbreaks spread to suppliers across the nation and the Americas.

Almost a third of U.S. pork capacity is down, the first big poultry plants closed on Friday and experts are warning that domestic shortages are just weeks away. Brazil, the world’s No. 1 shipper of chicken and beef, saw its first major closure with the halt of a poultry plant owned by JBS SA, the world’s biggest meat company. Key operations are also down in Canada, the latest being a British Columbia poultry plant.

While hundreds of plants in the Americas are still running, the staggering acceleration of supply disruptions is now raising questions over global shortfalls. Taken together, the U.S., Brazil and Canada account for about 65% of world meat trade.

“It’s absolutely unprecedented,” said Brett Stuart, president of Denver-based consulting firm Global AgriTrends. “It’s a lose-lose situation where we have producers at the risk of losing everything and consumers at the risk of paying higher prices. Restaurants in a week could be out of fresh ground beef.”

New U.S. shutdowns are hitting at a dizzying rate. Smithfield Foods Inc., the world’s No. 1 pork producer, said Friday it was closing another operation, this one in Illinois. That news hit less than an hour after Hormel Foods Corp. said it was idling two of its Jennie-O turkey plants in Minnesota. JBS said Sunday it will shutter a beef production facility in Wisconsin.

The most-recent news added to a flurry of other halts announced in the space of just a few weeks.

“During this pandemic, our entire industry is faced with an impossible choice: continue to operate to sustain our nation’s food supply or shutter in an attempt to entirely insulate our employees from risk,” Smithfield said in a statement Friday. “It’s an awful choice; it’s not one we wish on anyone.” – READ MORE

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