Coronavirus: Expect higher prices, more animals euthanized amid meat packing problems

Minnesota leaders say the closure of processing plants will have an impact on farms and consumers.
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The ongoing problems with coronavirus at meat processing facilities will result in more livestock being euthanized and higher prices for consumers in Minnesota.

That was the message delivered by Minnesota Agriculture Commissioner Thom Peterson during the state's Monday COVID-19 briefing, which comes after outbreaks at some major facilities in Minnesota and South Dakota.

The closure of Smithfield Foods in Sioux Falls and JBS USA in Worthington means that Minnesota's meat industry has lost more than 50 percent of its pork processing capacity.

That means that the state is looking to find new places to process between 100,000 and 200,000 hogs a week, either at smaller plants or by opening up other facilities on weekends.

But the supply far outstrips the region's capacity to process the livestock, which has resulted in thousands of animals being euthanized already, with Peterson noting this has happened to chickens as well as pigs.

There have been outbreaks at 15 food processing facilities across Minnesota, North and South Dakota, Iowa and Wisconsin in recent weeks, per the Forum News Service, with 7 of them including JBS USA and Jennie-O Turkey in Willmar still closed down as of Friday.

And with the industry trying to pivot to focus on grocery store-sold meat amid the shutdown of the region's restaurants, Peterson has said there may be some disruptions in the supply chain.

This in turn means consumers might notice higher prices at grocery store meat sections in the near future, though he said Minnesota's current supply is "stable."

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"This [euthanasia] has been very difficult for farming communities, it's decision not done easily and it's very emotional," Peterson said.

Peterson says the state is working to get plants up and running, noting how the Comfrey Farm Pork Plant in Windom, Minnesota, was able to re-open on Friday after a COVID-19 outbreak earlier in the week.

But the outbreak at JBS USA is significantly larger, with Nobles County now showing 399 cases of coronavirus, easily the highest rate of any county in Minnesota, most cases of which are tied to the pork plant.

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