Rising Meat Prices, Market Closures, and Worker Protection

  Some Oregon butchers anticipate increased meat costs as the result of meat processing plants that have closed due to worker illness. Some Oregon butchers are already experiencing changes in price and demand.   

“We’ve seen a significant increase in families coming in and then stocking their freezers and stuff in anticipation of being home for a while,” Beaverton’s Ponderosa Meat Market owner Robert McCue told Fox 12 Oregon.  

McCue also reported seeing a 25 percent increase in the price of beef over the last month and he anticipates more price increases.   

This trend isn’t isolated to Portland. The AP reported COVID-19 related closures of some meat processing plants in multiple states including Washington, South Dakota, Minnesota, Mississippi, and elsewhere. On April 28, America’s largest foodservice and retailers union reported that at least 13 meat processing plants closed within the past two months. This accounts for much of the meat found in supermarkets all over the US.    

Some speculate about rising costs and shortages since these closures also coincide with increased demand for meat. The USDA issued a report indicating that demand for meat during March 2020 exceeded the demand in the same month in 2019. According to this report, beef production increased 14 percent and pork production increased 12 percent as compared to last year.   

Several news outlets including CNN and Bloomberg reported that President Donald Trump signed an executive order using the Defense Production Act to require meat processing plants to stay open to prevent disruptions in the food supply.   

The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union call for improved worker safety measures including some which may slow production in the plants remaining open.  

Union president Marc Perrone said: “While we share the concern over the food supply, today’s executive order to force meatpacking plants to stay open must put the safety of our country’s meatpacking workers first. Simply put, we cannot have a secure food supply without the safety of these workers.”   

He listed measures needed to better protect workers in food processing plants that remain open including access to federal stockpiles of PPE, daily testing, adequate physical distance between staff, and full paid sick leave for workers who are infected.   

According to Perrone, more than 5,000 meatpacking workers have been hospitalized for COVID-19 and 20 have died. To put that in context, the North American Meat Institute estimates 527,019 people work in the American meat industry.  

 “To protect America’s food supply, America’s meatpacking workers must be protected,” explained Perrone. “The reality is that these workers are putting their lives on the line every day to keep our country fed during this deadly outbreak.”  

The union’s concerns relate to safety for workers in the plants. According to the USDA, there “is no evidence of food or food packaging being associated with transmission of COVID-19.”  

Local Resources  

Small-scale, local meat producers may not be as impacted by the national processing plant closures. The Corvallis Farmer’s Market vendors list several in their vendor’s guide at locallygrown.org. Also, the Oregon Pasture Network published a product guide connecting consumers with small scale ranches in the region.   

A recent thread in the Corvallis People Facebook group generated a list of local meat producers. They include: 

By Sam Sied