Food Shortages in Our Future
The bad news keeps on coming.
AP (“America could be ‘perilously close’ to meat shortages, as slaughterhouses shut down and hundreds of workers test positive for COVID-19“):
Hundreds of workers at a South Dakota plant that supplies up to 5% of all pork in the US caught the coronavirus. Now, the facility has become one of a number of meat processing plants across the US to close, sparking fears of meat shortages.
On Sunday, Smithfield Foods — the largest pork supplier in the US, which produces brands such as Smithfield and Nathan’s Famous as well as supplying ingredients for fast-food chains including McDonald’s — announced it would close its Sioux Falls, South Dakota facility.
The New York Times reports that JBS USA, the largest meat processor in the world, has had one worker at a Colorado facility die and closed a Pennsylvania plant for two weeks. Cargill also closed a facility in Pennsylvania.
Tyson closed a pork plant in Iowa after more than two dozen workers tested positive for COVID-19, The Times reports. Three people who worked at a Tyson plant in Camilla, Georgia have died, including 55-year-old Annie Grant who continued to work while ill.
Closures have sparked concerns regarding possible shortages. Supply chain disruptions and the closure of commercial buyers, such as restaurants, cruise lines, and theme parks, have already prompted some farmers to destroy massive amounts of products such as milk and vegetables, even as stores like Costco and Walmart face shortages.
“These facility closures will also have severe, perhaps disastrous, repercussions for many in the supply chain, first and foremost our nation’s livestock farmers,” Smithfield said in Sunday’s statement. “These farmers have nowhere to send their animals.”
It’s not just meat processing.
NYT (“U.S. Food Supply Chain Is Strained as Virus Spreads”):
The nation’s food supply chain is showing signs of strain, as increasing numbers of workers are falling ill with the coronavirus in meat processing plants, warehouses and grocery stores.
The spread of the virus through the food and grocery industry is expected to cause disruptions in production and distribution of certain products like pork, industry executives, labor unions and analysts have warned in recent days. The issues follow nearly a month of stockpiling of food and other essentials by panicked shoppers that have tested supply networks as never before.
Industry leaders and observers acknowledge the shortages could increase, but they insist it is more of an inconvenience than a major problem. People will have enough to eat; they just may not have the usual variety. The food supply remains robust, they say, with hundreds of millions of pounds of meat in cold storage. There is no evidence that the coronavirus can be transmitted through food or its packaging, according to the Department of Agriculture.
Still, the illnesses have the potential to cause shortages lasting weeks for a few products, creating further anxiety for Americans already shaken by how difficult it can be to find high-demand staples like flour and eggs.
“You might not get what you want when you want it,” said Christine McCracken, a meat industry analyst at Rabobank in New York. “Consumers like to have a lot of different choices, and the reality is in the short term, we just don’t have the labor to make that happen.”
As with masks, the advice to avoid hoarding and panic buying because the shelves would soon be stocked at normal levels was very bad, indeed.
*puts on rain coat, waders, p100 respirator, latex gloves, safety goggles, rubber boots. Straps hand sanitizer to my belt. Sprays body down with bleach. *
Let’s go hoard some chicken.
If you can find it!
The bad part is the long-term impression people will take away from this – buy lots early when there’s even the chance of a crisis. It will set back our confidence in a working supply system driven by market forces by decades.
Question: how many of these affected plants / agriculture areas are in places that get socked by bad weather like hurricanes? Looking down the pipeline, how bad is it going to be if we get a moderate to active hurricane season that would disrupt the system even more?
Are you really saying that the population would have been well advised to hoard and panic buy, or am I misreading that?
But hey, Trey Hollingsworth says these people should be glad to die so folks can have that ribeye.
Indiana congressman says letting more Americans die of coronavirus is the ‘lesser of two evils’ compared to the prospect of ‘economic disaster’ from lockdown
I am unlikely to be affected much by this. I’ve been raising my own meatbirds for years and I always buy half a pig from a buddy of mine. Now if coffee processing plants start shutting down…
The population as a whole would have been worse off if everyone hoarded and panic bought. But individuals who hoarded and panic bought may well be vindicated (presuming they have freezers and otherwise don’t waste the food they’ve bought).
No kidding, that would be bad for me too. Reminds me of something I saw on Twitter, a person who had been avoiding going out for weeks started to become fatigued, ongoing headache, generally felt awful/out of sorts. Was worried that they’d somehow contracted covid-19…until learning that for the past three days, they’d mistakenly been using decaf.
This situation with meat processing does have me concerned. For medical reasons, we follow a low-carb diet. We can get local meats–usually–but they are a lot more expensive. My freelance work has slowed, and while we’re still in relatively good shape, having our food bill double right now would not be ideal, to say the least.
Considering freezers and fridges are hard to find now, good luck to them. If you don’t have a chest freezer already, you likely ain’t getting one before you’d need it.
I think these articles and your take from them are overly panicky. We have more than enough food. What’s happening is that the supply chains are adapting to the new reality. That will take some time and may cause temporary shortages. But other countries have had far tighter lockdowns for far longer and been able to figure it out. One of the biggest things we could do is suspend many of the regulations that keep supply lines from shifting from a restaurant-based food economy to a home-based one.
This is a poor comparison. The advice to not use masks was a misguided attempt to save N-95’s for medical personnel. There is no shortage of material to make basic masks and my mask does not take yours away. The advice to not hoard, by contrast, was to prevent *precisely this situation*. One of the things exacerbating the strain is people stuffing their fridges and freezers to the gills.
What are working conditions like in meat processing plants in the US?
In Mexico, workers wear surgical-type masks, hair nets, and latex gloves at all times. They wear specific pairs of boots on the processing floor, too. Hands are washed before and after a shift. And the whole plant is obsessively cleaned throughout the day.
There are other measures, but these should hinder the spread of disease, not hasten it. It’s official policy, as set out in regulatory standards. Of course, not everyone follows them (I’ve visited a number of such plants on business), and health inspectors can be bribed. But most do, because in the long term it’s far cheaper than paying off the consequences of food poisoning, loss of customers, etc.
I’ve never visited a slaughterhouse, but they observe similar measures. Unless they are TIF-certified (Federal Inspection Type), in which case sanitary measures are even more stringent.
Hell, even the people working the deli and meat counters at the supermarket wear masks, gloves, etc.
This just will accelerate a trend that was already accelerating because of Republican immigration policy: the mechanization of farm work.
20 years ago I was in Washington State watching people hand pick asparagus and hops, which for two completely different reasons had defied automation. Today I’m pretty sure that both processes could be automated with enough engineering time, and wouldn’t need any breakthroughs.
The only thing holding this back was the incredible cheapness of illegal or “guest” farm workers, and the fact that you could hire or fire them at will, cheat them out of their wages, make problems due to Junior getting grabby go away, and didn’t need to provide them sick leave or health care or retirement benefits or anything else.
Many of the slaughter houses and food processing facilities that have been effected, are in states where the government has been slow to implement or hasn’t implemented stay at home orders. Add that the workers in these facilities are often living in extended family environments that have many living under one roof. Lots of opportunities for the virus to spread.
@MarkedMan: This might provide more impetus for people to shift over to a vegetarian diet, at least temporarily? About the only thing I really would like to have access to is fresh vegetables–I’m already trying to go through any meat in the freezer because will be moving in July (cross fingers) and lord knows I have enough lentils and beans.
(I really hope that those poor workers get sufficient support and treatment. If we all have to go vegan for a few months while they rest up and recuperate, that’s the breaks.)
I went to my local supermarket this morning, and got about 2 weeks worth of food. They seemed better stocked than they have for the last few weeks (even having major brand paper towels). They seemed to have plenty of meat.
Hopefully that lasts, though with the number of meat processing plants shutting down, I am not optimistic.
We’re not going to starve to death. We just won’t have the wide variety of food types we’re used to, particularly meat.
I was largely “Catholic vegetarian” (meaning I eat seafood but eschew other types of meat) before the apocalypse. The medication I have to take to keep the cancer from coming back screws up my blood pressure and cholesterol levels, and I already had genetic HBP pre-cancer. Meat isn’t good for cholesterol or HBP, so I minimize my meat consumption as much as possible.
Now that meat is difficult to find, we’ve been eating fish or vegetarian foods. If we run into a seafood shortage, we’ll go totally vegetarian.
My husband is mad that rice has become difficult to find. He’s having to make do with potatoes.
If you really want eggs and dairy, you can source them locally, from small, organic farms. Same thing with vegetables. I’m considering signing up for a service that will deliver a box of vegetables and fruits, along with milk, cheese, and eggs if I want them, weekly. There are several in my area. It’s more expensive than the cheap supermarket stuff, but not ridiculously so. Just be sure not to waste stuff.
On that note, the era of cheap food and 99-cent value menus are also over. Food will be more expensive now. Not outrageously expensive, but more expensive.
Most of those states also refused to expand Medicaid, and qualifying for it otherwise is damn near impossible. In Florida, for example, you can only earn a few thousand dollars per year, and you have to be pregnant or have minor children. People who work at slaughterhouses earn too much, and some of them either don’t have kids, or their kids are grown.
@Jen: I’m finding that in general, my spending has gone down, enough so that I can spend more on groceries. I last filled up my gas tank on March 24th, and it’s still three-quarters full, for instance. Not that I’m still not trying to be frugal, since for now I still have a job, but that might not last.
The news media simply is out of control and irresponsible with these “yelling fire”, “breaking news”, “paper shortages”, now “food shortage looms”. This simply creates a panic and people go out and buy everything up, making situations worse. Farmers need to get back to work instead of having to destroy their crops. To get them going the restaurants need to be allowed to fully open.
They can space people apart. Most restaurants are usually less than half full.
Too many of our governors have turned their states over to some health experts who only look at what is in their interests and do not care how their decisions affect the working folks out there.
No one elected them.
In many states there are groups forming to get their jobs back and return to common sense. There have been protests and this will only increase. Our leaders do not have the right to cancel the Constitution.
In some states there are protest groups forming that want to take back their state.
@Nightcrawler: when i got laid off years ago i looked into food stamps i think it was, here in Florida. Didn’t qualify because my car was worth more than 4k.
What this country could be, if not for the voting habits of most elderly white people.
The logical question to ask is how remiss these states are in instituting food safety regulations.
On other things, I’ve like 8 kilos of pre-cooked packaged chicken from leftover samples. Now I wish I’d taken more, but it’s too late for that. I’ve some textured soy, too. I’ve yet to see any food shortages locally, but I do know a lot of meat comes from abroad, much from the US.
I usually cook some kind of meat, mostly chicken and beef, but I can do without. I also commonly add grains and vegetables to my meals.
I’m in a fairly rural area, and there are at least five farms within a 2-3 mile radius from me that typically have eggs. They have been selling out quickly for weeks. Dairy farmers here in NH were in trouble before this began, it’s incredibly difficult to find local milk, but so far milk at the store hasn’t been a problem. Vegetables? We won’t see those until June at the earliest. In fact, we’re supposed to get snow over the next couple of days. It’ll melt quickly, but we’re far from getting our food from local sources here!
@Monala: That’s true, my spending has gone down. Still, going from $3 for pork chops to $8–if I can even find them locally–is going to put a dent in the grocery budget.
I have no doubt that the right-wingers are going to get exactly what they’re asking for in the red states they control, the doors flung back open.
But just because you fling the doors back open doesn’t mean people will walk through them. Let’s say half the population agrees with you. They think COVID-19 is no worse than the flu, it just takes “common sense,” and besides, they’re willing to martyr themselves for country, the Mango Manchild, and the Dow, just like religious extremists are willing to martyr themselves for sky fairies.
That means half the population doesn’t agree.
You can go ahead and give restaurants, concert venues, etc. the go-ahead to open back up. But with only half the population agreeing that it’s safe, probably about half the restaurants will stay closed/takeaway only. Same with other businesses. About half will open, half won’t.
The ones that do open will see maybe about half the business they normally do, if not less. People will probably be more likely to go to restaurants than concerts or comic cons, so restaurants will fare better, but not great. Not the way it was before.
Regarding offices, factories, etc. forcing people to come back to work, as I mentioned on another thread, employers can only push people so far before they’ll snap and quit. Some percentage of people will also become so ill they literally can’t work. Kind of hard to go to work if walking three feet makes you gasp for air.
That’s what these slaughterhouses are running into. I’m sure they’d love to force their employees to keep gutting chickens and slitting cows’ throats all day. Hell, I’m sure they’ve tried, but some percentage of their workforce has gotten so sick, it takes all their energy to get out of bed and go to the bathroom, and some percentage of their employees who’ve avoided infection have snapped and quit, even if they don’t have replacement jobs. Dead people can’t make any money.
The government isn’t forcing those slaughterhouses to shutter. They’re shuttering because there’s nobody to replace the workers who have dropped off their rolls due to illness or because they’ve snapped. Apparently, nobody who’s crying about “But I need to feed me kids” is willing to go take those jobs. I mean, they have plenty of open positions. You think they didn’t try to fill them before shuttering?
There is dark humor in the fact that flinging the doors open simply isn’t going to work out the way the right-wingers want it to, no matter what.
Regarding food production, the states don’t have much authority there as the regulations come from the Federal Gov, by virtue of the Fed Gov’s primacy in areas of interstate commerce. Where the state health and safety regs are focused is retail sale and restaurants.
If we need to live on locally produced food stuffs, we Cow Hampshirerites will be on a diet. I can only think of one dairy farm in the area and hand full of small beef/hog operations and several truck farms. Outside of the dairy farm, I believe most of the small farms have served the local restaurants that feature “locally sourced” food.
BTW, “recovering” from COVID-19 doesn’t mean you’re sick for a week or two, and then get all better and just go back to work. They’re sick for weeks, and because this disease is so new, nobody has any idea when they’ll be all better, or what the long-term effects of infection are.
I have a friend who is recovering from COVID-19 right now. She and her son are both infected. They seem to be getting better, thank god, but her experiences jive with this article. Just when she thinks she’s turned a corner, BAM. All of a sudden (her words here) it feels like she’s got an anvil pressing on her chest and can barely make it from her bed to the bathroom and back.
As of yesterday afternoon around 3:30, our local grocery’s meat displays had returned to nearly normal. So far as I could tell, all of the usual brands of and parts of chicken were there. OTOH, Denver is the regional distribution center for a very large region for multiple major grocery chains.
I think I know why I’m seeing what I am in my area. I’m in Florida. There’s a longer growing season here.
The real problem is that the food supply chain is split into two inflexible silos, consumer (grocery stores, etc.) and commercial (hotels, restaurants, schools). That’s why farmers are plowing over their crops. The supply chain isn’t adjusting, for a number of reasons. Some of these have to do with government regulations, but a lot of them also have to do with things like the byzantine process of getting grocery shelf space.
The food supply chain needs to become more agile, a lot more agile.
Another thing to check into, if it’s available in your area. Some restaurants, including national chains like Moe’s and Panera Bread, are selling grocery items now.
Let me guess: The call themselves the “Tea Party”, right? Fuck them, they weren’t elected either and the only thing they have going for them is their profound ignorance of anything beyond “A…. B…. C….” or “1+1=2”.
The US Dept of Agriculture does most food safety inspections. The place I take my birds is a Mennonite operation and an inspector is there every day while they are processing birds.
ETA: I would say all but I am not knowledgeable enough to stick my neck out that far.
Full circle. now I’m wondering again what working conditions are like 🙂
As to sourcing locally, there are precious few farms of any kind in one of the world’s biggest cities. Astonishing, I know. You’d expect better services and goods in the big city 😉
Beans and lentils are your friends, and they last for years.
Americans are about to become acquainted with the diets of their grandparents really not that many decades ago.
@Kit: You don’t understand the horror of it. Last week, his wife was refused two pizza! The apocalypse is upon us as we speak!
On a more serious note employees who continue to work while ill–mostly because they can’t risk losing their jobs or their meager salaries, I suspect–is the part that is broken and contributing the most to the problem in the supply chain. But we can’t fix that part because the multibillion dollar agribusiness network is strapped for cash (after stock buy backs and all). You can’t keep good management without 10, 20, 30-fold pay differentials. You have to draw the line someplace, you know.
Caffeine withdrawal is a real thing. I don’t get bothered by it, though. I only drink decaf to begin with. Caffeine makes my tremor so bad that I can’t even type, let alone write long hand or feed myself.
ETA: @Kathy: I take it you’ve never read The Jungle? You should. Audible is a particularly good choice as it is very evocative as an audiobook.
You know, Tyrell, sometimes you let the character you play slip and reveal that you’re really nothing but an asshole.
Sorry reality is impinging on you. Here’s an idea: next time you vote, vote for someone competent, not someone you think will ‘own the libtards,’ because I got news for you pal, you Trumpaloons are forever owned by us. The country is sick to death (heh) of your stupid fucking cult. You want to drink the Trump Kool-Aid and catch the big CV and spend your last hours gasping for breath in order to show your love for your man-god, fine by me, just stay in your trailer parks and stay the hell away from the rest of us.
This right here is is grade-A BS. Working folks listen to experts on health matters all the time – it’s called “going to the doctor”. That they are “not elected” has never been a problem before because everyone’s always understood the basics principle that someone who’s studies this for years knows more then you. After all, that’s why you’re seeking their expertise. Big ole’ duh moment, amirite?
It’s only idiots trying to justify truly bad decisions that bring this up. Elections have nothing to do with it. You put a failed real estate developer in a position he’s not an expert at and he’s been a *disaster* causing unnecessary suffering and death pretending to be a doctor. Clearly electing an non-expert is a bad idea. Listening to medical experts in a medical situation is basic common sense even a small child can understand. Where’s yours, buddy?
Part of the issue is logistics, the fact that production is siloed and transportation. Truckers are off the road and those who still are working are finding it difficult to find return loads, since manufacturing is shut down.
The working conditions in slaughter houses and similar are horrible, which is why the labor is mostly immigrants and many of them undocumented, American citizens won’t do the work. The pay, while not good, is better than restaurants and most retail, so people do it. Various interest groups have surreptitiously taken videos of the conditions inside these places and if you have the stomach to do it you can find them on YouTube. Not much has changed since Upton Sinclair’s days or maybe things improved and then they reverted to the past.
Some of the best Mexican restaurants in the US are in little podunk towns throughout the midwest.
You know, I had a detailed response nearly completed. Then I saw this:
This is Governor Ron DeSantis on why he classified WWE as an essential service.
I think Huxley just rolled over.
@Just nutha ignint cracker: The Jungle is a good description of conditions in the modern meatpacking industry. If you’re looking for a study of modern warfare, I’d suggest All Quiet on the Western Front. And for race relations, nothing is more contemporary than Uncle Tom’s Cabin.
@Just nutha ignint cracker:
I’ve read enough about The Jungle to know I don’t want to read it.
I’ve never visited a slaughterhouse, but I’ve an idea of what goes on. Even under ideal conditions, it would be an awful job.
But this brings up another thought. Recalls of food due to bacterial contamination seem to be rather common in the US, but not in other countries. This may be a legal matter, concerning liability, or perhaps insufficient care for quality and inspections.
Or maybe when spinach is recalled in the Netherlands, it doesn’t make international news.
Whereas the best Mexican restaurants in Mexico are all over the place 😉
Seriously, there are many types of regional Mexican cooking, and making it well outside a region isn’t often as successful.
Since it’s all scripted and staged, couldn’t they do it in CGI?
Got an example for me?
I can understand, accept, and even endorse your choice on this. 🙂 I wasn’t able to get all the way through it, myself, but I got far enough along to realize that is wasn’t as much a story about the meat packing industry–which did serve as a context frame for the whole story–as it was a story about how “polite society” used and abused immigrant populations to line the pockets of said polite society on every level–political, social, and economic. As sleeping dog noted, things haven’t changed all that much. They were changing while I was young, but then we sold out for the money and prestige of “important jobs,” speculated the absolute fwk out of property in our major cities, and managed to drive back the progress we were making. Men and women in the industry I was in when I was young make less in actual dollars per hour than I make per hour substitute teaching. In inflation adjusted dollars they make what minimum wage was then. My generation achieved a lot–it’s just that significant portions of it weren’t very good. As a song noted we were “going to make a world to be proud of.” We failed–spectacularly.
ETA: “Since it’s all scripted and staged, couldn’t [WWE] do it in CGI?
Actually, they do. Their video games for Play Station and such have uncannily realistic graphics these days. It’s possible that showing kids competing with each other on their video game platforms would make better programming than what they have under the current circumstances.
@Just nutha ignint cracker:
One thing I’ve read about it, is that Sinclair reportedly said “I aimed at the public’s heart, and by accident I hit it in the stomach.”
If you can’t order some rice from a restaurant then you might want to look around for local grain mills. Many are open to the public and will sell you the unprocessed grains for a pittance compared to grocery store prices. For example, I just picked up a 50-pound bag of white bread wheat for $23 and while I was there I bought 50 pounds of unmilled red winter wheat for $30. Those are both higher than pre-covid days but still not a bad deal compared to grocery store prices. The flour is fresher and way better quality, too.
You can also order rice online from many grain mills and restaurant suppliers but the cost of shipping for a 50-pound bag is $25 to $45. If it’s anything like the flour then the total will still be about half the price on Amazon (if they even have any in stock).