Well, here we are: Meat shortages.
Retailers are limiting meat purchases by consumers as producers are forced to euthanize their herds. At this point you might be asking yourself how we got here, and that’s a good question!
Let’s get to it.
To start off, a bit of background: When Tyson’s Waterloo, Iowa plant shut its doors, it took at least four percent of national pork processing capability down with it. That was one plant—just one—with 2700 employees, and it’s the result of years and years of consolidation in the industry. The four largest meatpacking firms capture the vast majority of all meatpacking capacity in the country. Their plants are highly concentrated operations with thousands of workers processing billions of pounds of meat every year. When one goes down, we all feel it.
Consumers rely on federal inspectors and regulations to make sure the products coming from these plants are safe. Or rather, they did — until the Trump administration axed regulations and cut the number of inspectors by more than half. So, before any of this started we were faced with a highly leveraged, highly concentrated system of meatpacking plants. Allied with them were a presidential administration, governors, and legislators across the country dead set on helping them maximize efficiency and profit, no matter the risks.
Then a global pandemic hit.
Workers started getting sick. In a huge plant with thousands of workers and day-long shifts, you start breathing someone else’s air pretty quick. What we’re hearing again and again is that plants were not providing or even enforcing safety standards. The stories are endless: A lack of testing at first, then an unwillingness to test at all. Excessive pressure from management. Staff forced to work shifts while sick. No PPE provided, or even enforced.
It’s a nightmare, and it cost people their lives.
We hear that plants are now taking steps to slow exposure and protect staff — but at this point, it’s all too late. And worse, there’s no sign of accountability coming from Trump. In fact, he’s moved to grant broad liability protections to meatpackers if their employees get sick or die.
All this goes back to Trump. His administration should have been providing guidance to these plants from the beginning, advising and supporting so they could protect their workforce and keep this vital sector online. He didn’t, and now we’re here.
It didn’t have to be this way, and we’re not resigned to this in the future. Changing things will depend on strong leadership, intentional policy, and sound decision making that supports workers and farmers as much as the owners. These plant workers are real people, their lives have value, and they are dying so we can keep food on our plates. The Trump administration has failed them, and we have to make this right.