Four members of Colorado’s congressional delegation are requesting changes to the meat supply chain amid reassurances from the industry that processing plants will remain open during the coronavirus pandemic.
On Wednesday, U.S. Sens. Michael Bennet and Cory Gardner, along with U.S. Reps. Scott Tipton and Ken Buck, sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Agriculture asking for beef and poultry producers to be able to sell directly to commercial markets. The request comes as meat processing facilities experience cases of COVID-19 among workers and as federal inspectors themselves get sick. The JBS USA plant in Greeley had approximately 245 infections, and processing facilities in general are vulnerable due to employees working in close quarters.
“According to USDA’s Cold Storage report, which indicates meat and poultry freezer stocks remain stable, it is clear supply is not the problem," the letter reads. “Rather, large processing plant closures across the nation are slowing meat slaughter and poultry processing, creating challenges for both consumers and producers.”
Colorado Commissioner of Agriculture Kate Greenberg said that she does not anticipate beef shortages or price increases, saying that the temporary plant closures for worker health and increased household demand amid restaurant closures resulted in the trouble maintaining inventory at some supermarkets.
“The pandemic has caused farmers, ranchers and processors to move food that once went to restaurants and food service to where it’s needed most: grocery stores,” she explained. “Colorado is a top beef cattle producer in the nation and currently has millions of pounds of meat in cold storage facilities.”
The Colorado Beef Council, Colorado Cattlemen’s Association and Colorado Livestock Association in a joint statement said that processing capacity at beef plants is 14-16% lower than this time last year, but that the arrival of personal protective equipment for plant workers will help sustain operations.
“Being able to keep plants open and get those that were closed back open will help keep the supply chain intact and ensure that beef will remain available to consumers,” said council chair Sallie Miller.