Rising Covid-19 infections among U.S. workers has forced meat plants to slow production and the government to replace slaughterhouse inspectors, industry companies and union officials reported.
The meat industry, one of the first epicenters of the pandemic in 2020, is the last sector that has been affected by the increase in cases of the Omicron varianthighly contagious, which has also left airlines, hospitals and schools looking for staff.
Cargill Inc, one of the top beef producers in the United States, operated some plants at a lower slaughter capacity last week, spokesman Daniel Sullivan said.
Lower slaughter capacity reduces the supply of beef in the United States at a time of boom in demand and means that ranchers must keep cattle longer in feedlots or on ranches. A sustained period of lower production could further increase high meat prices at a time of inflation fears.
“We are seeing the case count fluctuate as communities work to manage the spread of Covid-19, especially the Omicron variant,” Sullivan said.
The Agriculture department The United States estimated that beef processors killed 112,000 cattle last Friday, 6% less than the previous year and matching the levels of January 3, which were the lowest since October. Pig slaughter, meanwhile, was down 5% from last year on Friday, according to the department.
A Cargill beef plant in Dodge City, Kansas, was getting on with a “minimal crew,” said Lee Reichmuth, a Nebraska cattle feeder and a board member of the American Ranchers Association. The center supplies beef to customers in the food industry and processed food, both nationally and internationally.
The Covid-19 cases since Jan.3 they had risen from the previous 14 days in 26 of the 30 counties where the nation’s largest beef production plants are located, according to Steiner Consulting Group.
The Department of Agriculture’s meat industry inspectors are showing more and more positive results, according to Paula Schelling-Soldner, president of the Joint National Council of Local Food Inspection, which represents about 6,400 meat and poultry inspectors.