USDA Boosts Effort to Support Virus-Hit Meat, Poultry Producers

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The U.S. Department of Agricultureannounced it will establish a “coordination center” to help livestock and poultry producers hurt by coronavirus-induced meatpacking plant closures.

The USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service will offer “direct support to producers whose animals cannot move to market” and work with state veterinarians and other public officials “to help identify potential alternative markets” as plant shutdowns increase, according to a release posted on the agency’s website.

Senator Joni Ernst, Republican of Iowa, said the state’s pork industry, the nation’s largest, “is in dire straits” with producers facing “difficult and devastating decisions” about their livelihoods but that the USDA’s action was a good step.

“With a system designed for just-in-time delivery, this important sector of our state’s economy has been turned on its head due to meat processing plant closures across Iowa, and the Midwest,” Ernst said in a statement on Saturday.

Smithfield Foods Inc., the world’s No. 1 pork producer,said Friday it was closing its Illinois operations after some workers tested positive for Covid-19. The news came less than an hour afterHormel Foods Corp. said it was idling two of its Jennie-O turkey plants in Minnesota, and a day afterTyson Foods Inc. said it was shutting its beef facility in Pasco, Washington.

U.S. Reels Toward Meat Shortages and the World May Be Next

Shuttered or reduced processing capacity has prompted some farmers, left without a market, to euthanize livestock ready for slaughter. In Minnesota, farmers may have tocull 200,000 pigs in the next few weeks, according to an industry association. Carcasses are typically buried orrendered.

The USDA said in its release it will “advise and assist on depopulation and disposal methods,” if necessary.

“We will continue to seek solutions to ensure the continuity of operations and return to production as quickly, safely and as health considerations allow at these critical facilities,” the agency said.

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