By Karl Plume
CHICAGO (Reuters) – Millions of pounds of beef, pork and chicken will vanish from U.S. grocery stores as livestock and poultry processing plants have been shuttered by coronavirus outbreaks among workers, the chairman of Tyson Foods Inc said.
John Tyson warned that the U.S. “food supply chain is breaking” as a growing number of plant closures have left farmers with fewer options to market and process livestock.
Tyson Foods announced last week that it would shutter two pork processing plants, including its largest in the United States, and a beef facility to contain the spread of the virus.
Other major meat processors like JBS USA [JBS.UL] and Smithfield Foods have closed facilities in recent weeks as cases of COVID-19, the potentially lethal respiratory disease caused by the novel coronavirus, have soared among plant workers.
More than 5,000 U.S. meat and food-processing workers have been infected with or exposed to the virus, and 13 have died, the country’s largest meatpacking union said Thursday.
Companies say they are checking workers’ temperatures, working with local health officials and taking other steps to prevent the spread of the virus.
It is unclear how soon meat processing plants may reopen.
“There will be limited supply of our products available in grocery stores until we are able to reopen our facilities that are currently closed,” John Tyson said in a release published on Sunday.
“In addition to meat shortages, this is a serious food waste issue. Farmers across the nation simply will not have anywhere to sell their livestock to be processed, when they could have fed the nation,” he said.
Tyson shares are down more than 34% since the beginning of the year but have recovered from a more than four-year low hit in March.
(Reporting by Karl Plume in Chicago; editing by Jonathan Oatis)