As the meat supply chain chokes, farmers are experiencing serious economic and psychological repercussions after being forced to euthanize their livestock.
Across the United States, our supply chains are choking. Several factors have contributed to this: more people are spending less, demand is shifting to plant-based foods because of the bad rep the virus has given meat, and lockdowns and stay-at-home orders are complicating logistics. There are also fears of meat plant workers contracting the deadly Coronavirus. So what happens to the animals currently residing in factory farms? While logic would indicate that you simply continue to raise the farm animals, dozens of businesses have opted for the cheaper route. As meat plants face closure, they are simply shooting or gassing pigs and disposing of the carcasses, The New York Times reports.
In one Minnesota meat plant, a hog farmer sealed off his barn and piped carbon dioxide through the ventilation system. Similarly, another farmer shot all his pigs in the head, a process that took him all day. As lockdowns continue across the nation, pigs have grown too large to be slaughtered. This has caused a backlog, forcing farmers to kill their pigs and throw the animals' carcasses away rather than processing them into meat. This is a starkly sad an ironic situation, as thousands of Americans line up at food banks or simply go hungry due to the economic repercussions of the pandemic. Likewise, grocery stores are running low on meat; Wendy's, most notably, ran out hamburgers at hundreds of locations.
The sheer number of pigs being disposed of is shocking. In Minnesota alone, 90,000 pigs have already been killed as meat plants shut down. In Iowa, the nation’s largest pork-producing state, agricultural officials predict the backlog of livestock to reach 600,000 hogs over a period of six weeks. The process of discarding their livestock poses serious economic and emotional consequences for farmers. Greg Boerboom, a second-generation pig farmer in Marshall, Minnesota, stated, "There are farmers who cannot finish their sentences when they talk about what they have to do. This will drive people out of farming. There will be suicides in rural America."
"The economic part of it is damaging," added Steve Meyer, a pork industry analyst. "But the emotional and psychological and spiritual impact of this will have much longer consequences." With this in mind, Senator Chuck Grassley and other leaders in Iowa requested the White House Coronavirus task force to provide mental health resources to hog farmers (in addition to compensation for their financial losses). The White House has since acted, with President Donald Trump issuing an executive order to give the Department of Agriculture more authority to keep plants running. In addition to this, the federal government has promised to buy out $100 million a month in surplus meat. Nonetheless, this will not be enough to prevent all the waste experts estimate will be created.
There will be ongoing meat shortages around the country for a while. Trump is trying to force the plants to open but he can't get too far with that in the long run. And, of course, meat isn't essential. We are omnivores.https://t.co/UXbN2LKHpV— Dr Alice Clearman Fusco 🌊 (@aliceclearman) May 14, 2020
As farmers wait for government aid to kick in, pork industry groups are doing their best to fill the gap. Some have held conferences to teach farmers how to carry out the process of killing their livestock humanely. However, this is not something that farmers, who have spent all their lives in the industry, can easily stomach. "Every animal has a purpose," affirmed. Boerboom. "Every being has a purpose. We have raised these pigs to go into the food supply. And now so many are being wasted."