Meat industry rebounds after COVID-19 setbacks, but will it last?

Published: Oct. 29, 2020 at 9:10 AM EDT

WASHINGTON (Gray DC) - Nearly every industry in America is trying to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Michael Nepveaux, an economist at the American Farm Bureau Federation, said that one critical area looks to be improving: America’s meat industry.

“We all like to eat, don’t we?” Nepveaux said.

Early in the pandemic, coronavirus outbreaks inside processing plants -- and increased demand at grocery stores -- raised concerns about the possibility of a meat shortage and price increases. But the industry avoided that.

The Department of Agriculture reported in June that meat processing plants were operating at 95% to 98% of their 2019 levels, following President Trump’s executive order to keep them open during the pandemic.

“It’s a question of whether or not we’ll ever be back at 100% of where they were operating," Nepveaux said.

There are many unknowns as we head into 2021: When will we see an end to the pandemic? Will President Trump or Joe Biden be leading the county? Experts we talked to said those factors play a large role in what’s next for the meat industry.

John Anderson is the president of the Minnesota Pork Producers Association. He agrees that the industry is back on track, but he is still concerned about what lies ahead.

“The industry will survive," Anderson said. "The challenge is how does it look coming out the other end?”

Anderson wants more support from Washington, like financial compensation to farmers for pigs that were euthanized when processing plants slowed production in response to the pandemic.

Brooke Rollins, assistant to President Trump, said the president is committed to keeping the supply chain moving.

“The idea that there’s gonna be another run on supermarkets, that the whole country may shut down again, it’s just not going to happen," Rollins said. "At least with this president at the helm.”

Joe Biden said he supports higher wages and protections for workers inside processing plants. But would he shut down plants to fight a COVID outbreak? We asked his campaign several times, but they did not respond to our questions.

Multimedia Journalist Natalie Grim and Photojournalist/Editor Tyler Smith contributed to this report.

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