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Justice Department Clears Pork Industry For Mass Culling Amid Plant Closures

Hog confinement barn interior, slatted floor

At least 30 meat plants have closed since the beginning of March due to coronavirus outbreaks. (Wikimedia Commons)

The US Department of Justice has given the green light to the pork industry that will allow competing producers to collaborate on a mounting problem in light of plant closures due to coronavirus.

There are too many hogs, and not enough workers.

Many plants have temporarily shuttered or reduced production lines to stanch the spread of the virus, but that has taken a link out of the supply chain and left farmers with nowhere to send their animals. 

The National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) said in its DOJ request that the industry would have to euthanize up to 700,000 hogs per week due to plant shutdowns, and the industry needed a pass on antitrust rules preventing collaboration. 

Pork producers will now be able to “work at the direction of the USDA and state agriculture agencies to achieve humane and efficient euthanization of hogs that have grown too large to be processed and are thus unmarketable.”

Violating those rules would normally carry prison sentences up to 10 years or $100 million in fines.

The NPPC said last month that hog farmers would lose up to $5 billion this year.

Some producers have looked at alternative methods like feeding pigs a lean diet to keep them from growing fast, or sending animals to prisons for processing. 

In an interview with MSNBC, Michael Pollan said food supply failures like the pork industry’s glut stems from decades of companies being allowed to merge and grow too large.

“As the market consolidated, you get to the point where there’s only four companies that now slaughter 80 percent of the beef, and another four companies slaughter 70 percent of the pigs,” he said.

Pollan said the pandemic has revealed weaknesses in a food system that has prioritized efficiency at the cost of resilience to crises like a pandemic.

He said lawmakers should examine the antitrust policies that made catastrophic plant closures possible. 

Read More:

  • Meat Plant Closure Means Pigs Are Gassed Or Shot Instead (New York Times)
  • DOJ clears pork industry's plan to collaborate on euthanizing hogs (Food Dive)
  • Michael Pollan On Food Chain Amid Pandemic: ‘The Trade Off With Efficiency Is Always Resilience’ (MSNBC)
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