Pig farmers in the U.S. are killing tens of thousands of animals after a wave of coronavirus-induced closures at meatpacking plants left producers with few other options.
The plant closures have caused a severe bottleneck that have left farmers with nowhere to go with herds of animals. Many pigs are now too big to be sold commercially, and farmers are slaughtering thousands of the animals at a time and dumping the bodies, taking a financial and emotional hit in the process, according to The New York Times.
“There are farmers who cannot finish their sentences when they talk about what they have to do,” Minnesota pig farmer Greg Boerboom told the Times. On his farm, Boerboom has a backlog of 1,000 pigs that he is struggling to sell.
“This will drive people out of farming. There will be suicides in rural America,” Boerboom said.
Over 36 million Americans have lost their paychecks since the outbreak of the coronavirus, after states began forcibly locking down their economies in mid-March. Many people have been forced to go to local food banks for a meal for the first time. Others are applying for the increased unemployment benefits approved by Congress and finding their state’s unemployment office so swamped with applications that they can’t get through.
The United Nations warned last month that the next global catastrophe after the pandemic passes could be a massive wave of acute hunger impacting up to 265 million people worldwide, largely in the poorest countries. The pandemic has fractured global food supply lines that could take months or years to rebuild.
While the meat shortage is impacting a growing number of Americans – hundreds of Wendy’s locations have temporarily cut beef from their menu – the farmers that produce that meat are gassing and shooting animals by the thousands and leaving the carcasses almost entirely unused. The slaughter has consumed about 90,000 pigs in just Minnesota. Poultry processor Allen Harim announced last month that it was culling 2 million chickens.
“The economic part of it is damaging,” pork industry analyst Steve Meyer told the Times. “But the emotional and psychological and spiritual impact of this will have much longer consequences.”
Bottlenecks at meatpacking plants are being felt most severely within the pork industry because of the relatively inflexible timeframe pig farmers have to raise their crop of animals and send them to the plant. From the start of the sow’s pregnancy to a pig being butchered, the process usually takes 9 1/2 to 10 1/2 months, Vox reports.
After about 10 1/2 months, pigs are usually over 300 pounds and are risky for meatpacking workers to push along the line. Farmers can try to keep their pigs under 300 pounds for a bit longer by making them eat less, either by holding them in an environment that causes them to eat less, adding chemicals to their food to make it less appetizing, or cutting back on the amount they are fed.
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