Slowed production hits pork producers in Kansas

Published: Apr. 28, 2020 at 6:14 PM CDT
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Meat-processing giants like Tyson, Smithfield Foods and JBS USA have already shut down some of their plants and others have scaled back production due to employees testing positive for COVID-19.

Pork-processing plants are just some of those included. Eyewitness News Tuesday took a closer look at what slowed production means for pig farmers in Kansas.

"We have a lot of production and a lot of demand for pork meat, but the packing plant is the bottleneck," says Kansas veterinarian, Dr. Lisa Tokach, a pig specialist.

With an executive order, President Donald Trump says meat-processing plants must stay open.

Tim Stroda with the Kansas Pork Association says if plants were to remain closed, pork producers would have nowhere to send their hogs.

While keeping plants open will help, it won't fix everything.

"There are sick people, so those people have to stay home," Stroda says of plant workers with COVID-19. "If we don't have anyone to replace them, we're not going to be able to run the plants at full capacity.

Since hogs are living and growing commodities, they can't be stored when it's time for them to be harvested.

"(With) most of the plants, there's a size limitation you can actually handle in the plant," Stroda says.

Pig farmers are adjusting the animals' diets to slow their growth because if plants can't process them, farmers are left to their last resort: euthanizing some of their hogs.

"We're looking at ways to figure out how to handle that situation as humanely as possible in an environmentally friendly way as we can," Stroda says. "But it is not a good situation."

Stroda says there should be enough pork in cold storage to supply grocery stores, but you may not see certain products and could have to pay more for them.

He stresses that pork products you buy at the grocery store are still safe to eat.

"The CDC, the FDA, is all telling us the pork that's coming out of our plants is just as safe as it's ever been," Stroda says.

He says the best-case scenario for pork producers is for plants to stay open and process as many pigs as they can while keeping employees safe.