13 Things You Need to Know About Meat Shortages in the Pandemic Era

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Since the onset of the novel coronavirus in the U.S., consumers have sometimes encountered bare shelves in some sections of their supermarkets. Especially when news of potential lockdowns first surfaced, shoppers rushed to stock up on — and in some cases hoard — staples like pasta, rice, beans, canned tuna, and bottled water, on occasion leaving whole aisles bare. Refrigerated meat cases — especially the chicken section — were often empty, too. (When doing your food shopping, it’s wise to consider these 20 foods to buy when you’re sheltering in place because of their long shelf lives.)

For a population that has long been used to an array of food choices that would be unimaginable in much of the world — stores typically stock 40,000 to 50,000 items per location — realizing that they might not be able to buy their favorite brands of this thing or that was a sobering experience. Did it mean that we’re running out of food?

It might seem that way sometimes, but according to the experts, while the U.S. could face minor, local food shortages (as Forbes put it), they will be temporary. It’s mostly a matter of logistics, of waiting for distribution networks to catch up to increased demand from retail customers (because there’s so much more home cooking going on).

There is one area, however, where consumers might see more noticeable and lasting shortfalls. Most of the beef, pork, and chicken produced in the U.S. comes from just three companies, who process their offerings in massive plants — a number of which are now temporarily closed, or at least operating with greatly reduced staff as a result of the coronavirus. (These are other U.S. industries being devastated by the coronavirus.)

As a result, even when supplies return to their former levels, we may well be buying our protein in slightly different forms than we’re used to — whole chickens instead of cut-up parts; large portions of less familiar cuts of beef, etc. Meanwhile, though, while food banks face unprecedented demand and almost 40 million Americans still have hunger issues, millions of animals raised for food are being culled because the capacity to process them has been greatly reduced.

24/7 Tempo has consulted numerous news publications and hunger and environmental advocacy sites in an attempt to bring clarity to the situation. As a result, here are 12 things you need to know about meat (and poultry and seafood) shortages — or lack of shortages — in these difficult times.