COVID-19 could worsen poultry, pork worker shortage

U.S. poultry and pork industry groups are concerned that the ongoing labor shortage could worsen due to the impact of the COVID-19 outbreak.

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(Kira_Yan | Bigstock)
(Kira_Yan | Bigstock)

U.S. poultry and pork industry groups are concerned that the ongoing labor shortage could worsen due to the impact of the COVID-19 outbreak.

The National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) recently sent a letter to U.S. government officials, expressing the organization’s concerns related to the coronavirus outbreak and how it could impact the already troubling labor shortage.

In the letter, signed by NPPC President Howard “A.V.” Roth, the organization NPPC called for expedited solutions addressing the need for more workers on hog farms and in pork plants. It also called on federal, state and local governments to work together to develop a response to COVID-19 that protects public health and, whenever possible, supports animal care and minimizes disruptions to the U.S. pork production supply chain and consumers. NPPC also called on the administration to develop support plans for hog farmers if labor-related bottlenecks in the supply chain prevent hogs from being marketed.

“School closures preventing parents from going to work and caring for their animals are already a concern in farm and plant communities,” said  Roth, a hog farmer from Wauzeka, Wisconsin. “The specter of market-ready hogs with nowhere to go is a nightmare for every pork producer in the nation. It would result in severe economic fallout in rural communities and a major animal welfare challenge.”

NPPC said the industry relies on foreign labor and needs a stable workforce, and with or without challenges brought on by the coronavirus outbreak, reform of visa programs for agricultural workers is needed.

NCC, NTF have similar concerns

While neither the National Chicken Council nor the NTF have written letters like NPPC did, the two organizations do have similar concerns.

“Like every other businesses, our members are working with the federal, state and local governments, are communicating with employees and have response plans in place to prevent, contain and respond to possible COVID-19,” NCC spokesman Tom Super said in an email. “Labor is a constant challenge in the manufacturing industry and we have long supported a year-round occupational visa program. But we have yet to see any disruption in production due to this situation.”

NTF, meanwhile, issued the following statement: “The turkey industry is acutely aware of the challenges presented by a diminished workforce, and the National Turkey Federation (NTF) is working with our member companies to monitor any impacts COVID-19 may have on the supply chain, including labor. In the meantime, NTF’s efforts remain sharply focused on working with lawmakers to advance a viable legislative fix to the immigration system that allows meat and poultry processors to access an agricultural guestworker program.”

View our continuing coverage of the coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic.

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