Meat+Poultry - August 2020 - 88

FROM THE CORRAL

Contingency planning
Coronavirus brought massive
disruptions to the meat and poultry
and other food production supply
chains. Thousands of animals had to
be euthanized on farms this year. The
waste of meat, milk and produce was
horrendous. To prevent these problems
in the future will require changes to
improve flexibility on both the live
animal and the finished food product
ends of the supply chain.
A large meat processing plant is a
choke point in the middle of the chain
between farmers and consumers. When
something goes wrong, such as COVID19, that drastically reduces capacity and
the live animals or other food products
may have nowhere to go. On the other
end of the chain, when a certain market
segment is cut off such as the restaurant
industry, a backlog of product backs up
in cold storage. This will slow down the
slaughter line. There are ways to make
centralized supply chains more robust
by making them more flexible.
Ranchers who previously sold
beef directly to consumers have been
economically impacted less severely
during the pandemic. A recent survey
by Beef magazine showed that 23% of
ranchers were extremely financially
impacted and 31% were only slightly
financially affected or had no financial

effects from COVID-19. The most
progressive ranchers are developing
more direct-to-consumer meat sales.
There is a huge need to build more
local and regional slaughtering and
processing facilities. Specialized local
processors can co-exist with large
meat companies. They could grow to
about 20% of the market. One large
pork producer recently built more
barn space to hold pigs that could not
be slaughtered. Beef feedlots need to
develop contingency plans for feeding
hay or diverting cattle to pasture. A
few innovative pork producers have
responded by shipping their pigs from
the Midwest to a plant on the West Coast
that still had capacity. Pork producers in
rural areas sold pigs directly to people
who knew how to butcher them.
We have learned that big is fragile
and everybody must be ready for
problems. From now on, we must
always be ready to respond if the
supply chain breaks.
Huge amounts of milk were thrown
away because it was in restaurant
packages that were not labeled for
supermarkets. When the restaurant
packages could not be sold, dairies
were dumping tankers of milk. This is
a problem that should never happen
again. Contingency plans should be
implemented so that the packages
could be instantly legally labeled
for retail sale. Retail packages and
restaurant packages contain the same
pasteurized milk or the same US

Department of Agriculture inspected
beef, pork or chicken.
The suppliers who deliver food
to restaurants, hotels and schools
need to have emergency plans so that
deliveries can be instantly diverted.
The truck from a distributor that would
normally go to several restaurants
needs to be able to deliver its load to
a supermarket.
I do not want to hear about
bureaucracy that would prevent this.
I have been in the plants and have
watched them put the same meat or
milk in different types of packages.
Thousands of pigs have had to be
killed on farms. Fortunately, the large
plants have come back online and are
now operating at 80% to 90% of 2019
capacity. The Midwest was hit the
hardest and mass destruction of pigs
was greatest in this area. It was at its
worst point in the middle of May. Since
November 2019, some plants were
already exporting entire pig carcasses
to China. Earlier in the year there was
increased demand for US pork exports
due to the African swine fever epidemic
in China. A plant that was selling to this
market would still be able to operate
at almost full capacity. A much smaller
number of employees is required to
process whole pig carcasses.
We have to accept that "big" can be
really efficient and save money, but we
must be ready to have alternate plans
when it breaks.
T E M P L E G R A N D I N | m e a t p o u l t r y @ s o s l a n d .c o m

A large meat processing plant is a
choke point in the middle of the chain
between farmers and consumers.
Rosalie Winard

88

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Meat+Poultry - August 2020

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