CHICAGO (CBS) — The COVID-19 pandemic is having a dire impact on Illinois meat farmers, as several major meat packing plants across the country have closed due to the virus.
When you get your meat at the grocery store, it’s easy to forget just how many hands are involved in the process of getting it there.READ MORE: City Was Warned About Thousands of Corroding Light Poles But Failed to Fix Many, CBS 2 Investigation Finds
When meatpacking plants close, it affects everyone in supply chain, and Illinois farmers could face a crisis if things don’t turn around soon.
Smithfield Foods, the world’s largest pork processor, is hitting pause at two meatpacking plants in Illinois over covid-19 concerns; one Smithfield plant in St. Charles, the other in Monmouth, putting further strain on an already hurting industry.
“It’s dire right now,” said Jennifer Tirey, executive director of the Illinois Pork Producers Association.
Tirey said Illinois farmers are growing desperate
“One of the calls that I get on a daily basis is ‘how are our packing plants moving,’ because that is a critical question for all of our farmers: ‘can we send our hogs to market?’” she said.
Sending animals to market is only getting tougher as more plants shutter their doors.
The Smithfield pork factory in Sioux Falls, South Dakota also had to shutter their doors, after nearly 800 employees tested positive. The company also closed plants in Cudahy, Wisconsin, and Martin City, Missouri, and is facing a lawsuit over working conditions at a plant in Milan, Missouri.
Tirey said the safety of plant workers is essential.
“They are our first line of keeping the supply chain going and we appreciate their efforts. We just need to keep that workforce healthy,” she said.READ MORE: Chicago Weather: Rain Arrives Sunday
Across the board, roughly 5,000 food processing workers in the U.S. have been exposed to COVID-19 since the pandemic, and it’s coming at a cost.
“Our farmers are now losing over $40 per animal at market,” Tirey said. “They are hemorrhaging on farms, and trying to continue to survive.”
Tirey said, unlike restaurants, they can’t pass on their losses. Farmers still have to pay for costs of labor and animal care, even when they aren’t profiting.
The forecast is grim as animals continue to grow bigger than market weight, with nowhere to go.
Tirey said time is running out before we start seeing drastic measures, like euthanizing hogs that could have fed people instead.
“Our farmers have about two more weeks,” she said. “We’re going to have to depopulate farms if our farmers aren’t able to send those hogs to market.”
If things don’t turn around soon, and more meatpacking plants close, Tirey warns we’ll see a loss of animals, a loss of revenue, and a loss of farms.
“When COVID-19 hopefully clears and passes, I’m not sure how many of my farmers are still going to be around,” Tirey said. “I’m afraid we’re not going to have some of these farmers in business.”
Approximately 97% of farms in Illinois are family owned, according to the Illinois Farm Bureau.MORE NEWS: View Live Radar
The Illinois Farm Bureau said, if you start seeing less meat on the racks at your local grocery stores, it’s not a supply issue, there’s plenty of hogs and animals, just fewer places to send them to.