The meat industry is struggling amid the coronavirus pandemic. U.S. meat sales are projected to drop by more than $20 billion this year.
Confirmed cases of COVID-19 and employee call-outs have caused a number of processing plants to close or reduce operations. Some of the biggest meat companies, including Tyson Foods, Smithfield Food Inc. Cargill Ltd., National Beef Packing Co., and JBS all closed plants following outbreaks. However, in April, President Donald Trump invoked the Defense Production Act of 1950, allowing plants to remain open without legal liability if workers fell ill.
As of June 16, at least 25,000 reported confirmed cases of COVID-19 have been connected to meatpacking facilities in at least 238 plants in 33 states. This is according to research by the nonprofit The Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting.
Due to plant closures, a number of farmers resorted to culling livestock that they were unable to feed and slaughter for sale. In April, Tyson Foods chairman John Tyson told Reuters that millions of pigs, chickens, and cows would be euthanized.
Experts predict that this may lead to a multibillion-dollar loss.
“I’m not sure anybody really understood sort of how to be prepared. These meatpacking plants, by their very nature, are extremely difficult to manage a human disease like this,” Derrell Peel, a livestock marketing specialist at Oklahoma State University, told CNBC.
Vegan Food Sales Surge During COVID-19
With meat supply chain disruptions apparent across the country, some consumers have turned to other sources of protein. As a result, vegan food sales have soared during the outbreak.
Panic-buying during lockdown resulted in an uptick in plant-based food sales, including cheeses, meats, and tempeh.
Research shows in the 16 weeks leading up to April 19, plant-based food sales outpaced the total food sales. Vegan food sales surged by 90 percent compared to the same period last year. This is according to the Plant Based Foods Association (PBFA) and retail analytics firm SPINS released the data. The trade organization that represents some of the top U.S. vegan food brands.
U.S. tofu sales have also increased during the pandemic. Global market research firm Nielsen reported a 66.7 percent during the four-week period ending on March 28 compared to the previous year. In May, tofu sales increased by 32.8 percent.