The closures are devastating to meat producers. Without processing facilities, livestock farmers are having a hard time selling their meat.
But US consumers don’t have to worry about shortages in supermarkets, experts say. At least not yet.
“I don’t think the shutdowns so far have been enough to be noticeable” to consumers, said Steve Meyer, an economist with commodity firm Kerns and Associates. “We have a lot of pork, we have a lot of chicken, we have a lot of beef in cold storage,” he said. “We can draw on that should we have some shortages.”
Plus, livestock that is not diverted will still need to processed when plants open up, Meyer said.
Christine McCracken, senior analyst of animal protein for Rabobank, said that plant closures or reductions in operations due to labor shortages or social distancing efforts may mean fewer options. But they probably won’t mean less meat altogether.
“There likely will be a drop in the number of types of products that are on the shelves,” she said. “It may be that a deboned product isn’t available because they don’t have the labor to do that. So boneless chicken breasts might not be an option in the coming weeks.”
The situation is fluid, and things could take a turn for the worse. Consumers may feel the impact if plants stay closed for a long time, or if many more close all at once.
And in the long term, meat prices could go up.
If livestock farmers go out of business because of the pressures they face today, the US meat supply will eventually contract. That will mean more expensive meat for consumers, McCracken said.