The chairman of Tyson Foods took out a full-page ad in the New York Times and other newspapers to announce that “the food supply chain is breaking.” The announcement was spurred after the coronavirus outbreak caused several large meat processing plants to close.
John H. Tyson used the ad space to publish an open letter that warned of problems in the supply chain, including the possible euthanizing of millions of chickens and further processing plant closures.
“In addition to meat shortages, this is a serious food waste issue,” Tyson explained. “Farmers across the nation simply will not have anywhere to sell their livestock to be processed, when they could have fed the nation. Millions of animals – chickens, pigs and cattle – will be depopulated because of the closure of our processing facilities.”
The industry has been hit with a double whammy: plant closures due to illness and changes in the way Americans are eating during the coronavirus outbreak. Restaurants needing drastically reduced supplies while they are closed or open only for takeout and delivery have collided with grocery stores that need more because people are eating at home instead of going out.
Food supply “vulnerable”
Tyson warned that the supply chain problems will lead to ongoing limited supply as long as plants need to close down and the supply chain disruptions continue.
According to The Hill, large plant closures around the country make up about 15% of the pork supply in the U.S. One plant closure is Tyson’s Waterloo, Iowa plant, and the others are Smithfield and JBS.
The Daily Mail reported that at least 13 pork plants in the U.S. have closed because of coronavirus-infections on site.
“The government bodies at the national, state and county levels must unite in a comprehensive way to allow our team members to work in safety without fear, panic or worry,” he wrote. “The private and public sectors must come together.”
Tyson also said that the company is ensuring social distancing, sanitizing plants daily, and checking workers’ temperatures before and during shifts.
Making the shift
It’s not as easy as one would think to take restaurant food and sell it at the grocery store, farmers are finding. The complexity of the supply chain and logistics may lead to a lot of wasted food if we don’t figure out a way to transition quickly.
The only problem with making the transition is that by the time that occurs, conditions will be changing again. I think farmers have not seen the point of making what they thought would be a short-term transition.
With restaurants being closed to dining in for what could turn out to be a month or two longer, it may be worthwhile to build some flexibility into the supply chain if at all possible.