Iowa Pig Farmers Face Euthanizing Thousands of Animals as Supply Chain Stalls

Iowa pig farm
Charlie Riedel/AP

The spread of coronavirus at American meat packing plants, where many employees work in crowded conditions, has caused a bottleneck in the supply chain that has left pig farmers without access to processing plants to get their product from ranches to consumers. Now they want help from the federal government.

Farmers “will need help in a significant way,” Pat McGonegle, CEO of the Iowa Pork Producers Association, said in a DesMoines Register report, adding that unless the pigs can be processed that help may include destroying thousands of animals.

“The clock is ticking … it’s days not weeks,” McGonegle said.

The Register reported on the situation in Iowa, where an estimated 25 million pigs in the pipeline make it the state with the largest pork operations in America:

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (U.S.D.A.) said late Friday that livestock and poultry producers face an “unprecedented emergency” after large processing plants have slowed or closed as more than 6,000 U.S. meatpacking workers have become ill or been exposed to the coronavirus.

The USDA said it would work with state officials and veterinarians to help farmers “identify potential alternative markets … and if necessary, advise and assist on depopulation and disposal methods.”

Mike Naig, Iowa’s agriculture secretary, said the state is asking USDA to help cover the losses that producers face if they’re forced to destroy and dispose of animals.

State officials said that as many as 40,000 pigs are not being processed daily, causing pork producers to lose as much as 40 percent of their production capacity. 

This slows the supply chain as market-weight hogs aren’t sent for processing, while hundreds of new piglets arrive to be fed and fattened.

“Depopulation is a last resort for any farmer, but it may be necessary to prevent animal welfare issues,” Naig said in the Register report.

“Iowa producers have lost access to production at the Tyson plant in Waterloo, a Smithfield plant in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, and a JBS plant in Worthington, Minnesota, both of which are across the state border. Other plants have closed and reopened, including the Tyson plant in Columbus Junction, which restarted this week,” the Register reported.

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