Get all the latest news on coronavirus and more delivered daily to your inbox. Sign up here.
The coronavirus pandemic has dealt a new blow to the American meat industry, as farmers will have to euthanize as many as 10 million pigs by the middle of September to avoid overcrowding in their facilities, the National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) has warned.
Though President Trump invoked the Defense Production Act in late April to keep meat processing plants open through the COVID-19 crisis, outbreaks of the viral disease have shuttered some plants and slowed operations at others. Consequently, pork farmers have not been able to send or sell tremendous numbers of market-ready hogs in recent weeks, creating a bottleneck in the supply chain.
Now, there are few viable accommodations for an estimated 170,000 pigs to be sent to the operative plants each day for processing into the food supply, the NPPC says. According to the council, these hogs will eventually grow “too large” for admission to harvest facilities, creating a “tragic reality” for farmers in the U.S., who have raised “10 million hogs with nowhere to go.”
Producers cannot continue to house the market-ready hogs, the council said, as they need make room for younger hogs entering the supply chain. Farmers plan about 10 months in advance for how many hogs to prepare for market through the spring and summer, with the pandemic greatly upending their 2020 projections.
“Producers face a wrenching and tragic choice; watch their mature animals suffer because they can’t care for them or euthanize them. The only humane option is to euthanize them, a tragedy for farmers who work to produce food for people,” the NPCC said in a statement last week. “Destroying these animals and the food they represent goes against every farmer instinct.”
Overcrowding on hog farms can result in aggression and injuries, impacting the pigs’ ability to eat, drink and rest. It is also a challenge to maintain a comfortable air quality and environment for the animals.
As of May 6, pork harvest capacity is down almost 40 percent due to coronavirus-related slowdowns and shutdowns, the NPPC said.
Now, the pork council is asking for federal assistance to address the unprecedented crisis. The NPPC seeks congressional authorization to fund $1.173 billion for the USDA Farm Service Agency Emergency Assistance for Livestock, Honeybees and Farm-Raised Fish (ELAP) for pork producers who cannot market their pigs due to coronavirus-related plant shutdowns and slowdowns.
The group also hopes to receive an additional $505 million for euthanasia and depopulation expenses as well as the facilitation of environmentally responsible disposal, in partnership with the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, National Resource Conservation Service and FEMA.
Without this assistance, the NPPC argues, thousands of farmers will have to liquidate their assets, ultimately driving up pork prices for the American people.
In response, the USDA established a National Incident Coordination Center last month to help farmers euthanize and dispose of these animals because of the processing plant closures, National Hog Farmer reports.
"None of us want to euthanize hogs, but our producers are facing a terrible, unprecedented situation," said Bob Krebs, president of meatpacking company JBS USA Pork.
Last month, JBS announced that it would be reopening a temporarily closed pork production plant in Minnesota as a humane euthanasia facility, which capacity to euthanize about 13,000 hogs per day.