Meat companies and union officials tell Reuters that rising COVID-19 infections among workers are forcing meat plants to slow production and the government to replace slaughter inspectors.
Meatpacking was an early epicenter of COVID in 2020 and is now the latest sector to be disrupted by the Omicron variant.
Cargill, one of the country’s top beef producers, operated a few of its plants at a lower slaughter capacity last week. A Cargill plant in Dodge City, Kansas, was getting by with a skeleton crew at one point.
Less slaughter capacity means a smaller beef supply is available despite booming demand for the product.
Farmers also have to keep cattle longer in feed yards or on ranches. USDA estimates beef producers killed 112,000 cattle last Friday, down six percent from 2021 and matching January third levels that were the lowest since October. Pig slaughter was down about five percent from last year on Friday as well.