(Bloomberg) — There is perhaps no more dramatic an example of the destruction plaguing America’s food supply chain than this: Thousands of pigs are rotting on compost heaps as grocers run out of meat.
Covid-19 outbreaks at slaughterhouses have led to the largest pig culling effort the U.S. has ever seen. Hundreds of thousands of animals are already backed up, and CoBank estimates 7 million animals may have to be destroyed this quarter alone. That’s about a billion pounds of meat lost to consumers.
Some farms in Minnesota are even using chippers — reminiscent of the 1996 movie “Fargo” — to grind up carcasses to be spread out for compost. Rendering plants are seeing higher volumes of hogs turned into everything from gelatin to sausage casings.
Behind that enormous waste are thousands of farmers, some of whom are holding on in the hope that slaughterhouses get back up and running before animals get too heavy. Others are cutting their losses and culling herds. Pig “depopulation,” to coin an industry euphemism, highlights the disconnect that’s occurring as the pandemic sickens workers trying to churn out food supplies in mega-plants across the U.S.
“In the agriculture industry, what you prepare for is an animal disease. The thought is never that there’s not going to be a market,” said Michael Crusan, spokesman at the Minnesota Board of Animal Health. As many as 2,000 hogs will be composted a day and laid out in windrows in Nobles County. “We have lots of pig carcasses that we have to effectively compost on the landscape.”
Most meat plants that closed as workers fell ill have reopened after President Donald Trump issued an executive order to do so. But the processing industry is still far from pre-pandemic levels given social-distancing measures and high absenteeism.
The fallout has left meat cases at grocery stores across the U.S. with fewer supplies and driven up prices. Wholesale pork prices in the U.S. have doubled since April. Retail pork-chop prices also jumped 7.6% in April, the biggest monthly gain since at least 1998 when data begin.