By Lasca Randels
WARSAW — Life as we know it is different.
The COVID-19 pandemic has forced a number of changes in our society.
Schools are closed, restaurants and bars have been operating strictly on a carry-out only basis, scores of people are working from home and hand sanitizer is as valuable and difficult to find as gold. It appears we’ve managed to survive the Great Toilet Paper Panic — and one can only hope that disinfecting wipes will someday return to supermarket shelves.
There are various reports suggesting consumers could soon see a potential scarcity of beef, pork and chicken due to a number of meat processing plants being temporarily closed during the pandemic.
After nearly 900 workers at a Tyson Foods facility in Logansport, Indiana, recently tested positive for COVID-19, Tyson announced last week that the company would voluntarily close the facility. They are currently reported to be working with Cass County officials on a reopening plan.
An excerpt from a blog posted by John Tyson, chairman at Tyson Foods, on April 26, reads, “In small communities around the country where we employ over 100,000 hard-working men and women, we’re being forced to shutter our doors. This means one thing – the food supply chain is vulnerable. As pork, beef and chicken plants are being forced to close, even for short periods of time, millions of pounds of meat will disappear from the supply chain. As a result, there will be limited supply of our products available in grocery stores until we are able to reopen our facilities that are currently closed.”
Two days later, on April 28, President Trump signed an executive order under the Defense Production Act to keep meat processing plants open.
Marc Perrone, president of United Food and Commercial Works International Union, the largest meatpacking union in the country, issued a statement following Trump’s order, saying, “To protect America’s food supply, America’s meatpacking workers must be protected. The reality is that these workers are putting their lives on the line every day to keep our country fed during this deadly outbreak, and at least 20 meatpacking workers have tragically died from coronavirus while more than 5,000 workers have been hospitalized or are showing symptoms. For the sake of all our families, we must prioritize the safety and security of these workers.”
“While we share the concern over the food supply, today’s executive order to force meatpacking plants to stay open must put the safety of our country’s meatpacking workers first. Simply put, we cannot have a secure food supply without the safety of these workers,” Perrone said.
At the very least, meat selection could be limited for a period of time. A trip to several local grocery stores over the weekend showed prices on certain cuts of meat at local stores are significantly higher than normal, although there was plenty of fresh meat available.
As of Monday morning, May 4, the Costco Wholesale website states that Costco will be limiting fresh meat purchases to three per member among beef, pork and chicken products.
The owner of Owen’s supermarket in Warsaw is also monitoring the situation.
When asked about the possibility of a meat shortage last week, Eric Halvorson, public affairs manager for the Kroger Co. Central Division (which owns Owen’s), said, “We are monitoring the issue closely and I am happy to say we have not seen a significant impact on our stores. The Kroger team is working closely with all of our producers to maintain meat supplies at best possible level.”