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Monday, May 11, 2020

Local meat purveyors feel the impact of national meat processors affected by COVID

Posted By on Mon, May 11, 2020 at 12:02 PM

The novel coronavirus continues to disrupt normal food supply chains nationwide, and the beef industry is taking a particularly heavy hit. Processing plants throughout the U.S. have closed their doors because of coronavirus outbreaks among employees.

The resulting meat shortage has trickled down to grocery stores, butchers, and fast-food and dine-in restaurants—that are currently serving customers via take-out and curbside pick-up.

Arroyo Grande Meat Co. owner Henry Gonzalez told New Times the impact of the virus on meat processing and distribution has been enormous and something he’s never seen before.
click to enlarge GOT MEAT? Arroyo Grande Meat Co. owner Henry Gonzalez is feeling the impacts of the coronavirus as many of his products are out of stock. - FILE PHOTO BY HAYLEY CAIN
  • GOT MEAT? Arroyo Grande Meat Co. owner Henry Gonzalez is feeling the impacts of the coronavirus as many of his products are out of stock.

“Many items that I carry from pork to beef to chicken are out of stock or have more than doubled in price,” he said.

Brent Burchett, executive director of the San Luis Obispo County Farm Bureau, said meat processors are facing legitimate challenges right now from COVID-19, primarily getting enough healthy workers, but also adapting their logistics to meet this new food landscape.

“Changes in commercial food service industry demand (less restaurants, fast food, and cafeteria sales) affect how food is packaged and distributed to go to other markets like grocery stores,” Burchett said, “Processors will figure this out, but it takes time, and they can’t operate without healthy workers.”

Despite meat processing challenges, there's an increased demand for direct market beef. This is where, Burchett said, cattle ranchers take their cattle to a local processor and market it directly to consumers instead of selling cattle to a feedlot.

More work is involved, he said, but it gets better prices.

Cattle is the largest animal agriculture sector in SLO County. Burchett said ranchers within the county continue to suffer from low cattle prices nationally.

“There is a lot of frustration that while the grocery store price for beef is higher, the price paid to ranchers is still low. Prices were bad even before COVID, but President Trump announced a Department of Justice investigation last week to look into possible market manipulation between the large meatpacking companies regarding this disparity,” he said. ∆

—Karen Garcia
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