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Pork Processing Bottleneck Could Hamper Strong Domestic, Foreign Demand

2018 Outlook for U.S. Pork Turning Negative-media-1

With dairy producers dumping milk, closures of meat packing facilities, and empty shelves in grocery stores, Secretary of Ag Sonny Perdue says there’s no shortage of food. That includes pork.

When the pandemic began, there was an increase of retail sales of pork and protein. With consumers purchasing more product, Mary Kelpinski, CEO of the Michigan Pork Producers Association says the supply chain needed to adjust.

“[Grocery stores] are used to filling up the meat case once a day or several times a week,” she said. “Now the meat is flying off the shelf. It’s making sure that the whole supply chain can get ramped up to the level that it’s needed.”

The food service industry purchases roughly one-third of processed pork. Restaurant demand has diminished from stay-at-home orders. Kelpinski says those products aren’t packaged for retail, and the industry is trying to catch up.

“Part of the issue is getting more packaging done for retail, and then finding a home the food service channels,” said Kelpinski. “Hopefully we’re trying to work out the details for the USDA to purchase some of that product for food banks and plenty of people that need food right now.”

African swine fever (ASF) is still ravaging China’s hog herd. With the sheer number of animals lost from the virus, Kelpinski says there’s so much potential for U.S. pork. However, there’s a bottleneck stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic.

“When you look at the quantities of pork that have been lost due to ASF, we could easily fill the big hole in the protein market and protein supply worldwide if we could get this whole supply chain working correctly,” she said.

There is still a concern with ASF coming to the U.S. Michigan and the U.S. pork industry are still making emergency response plans if ASF came to our shores. With the current state of the industry, those plans are getting pushed to the backburner.

“[The pork industry] is still working on it—it’s just gotten pushed back a little bit because we’ve got to make sure that there’s an industry left,” said Kelpinski.

Our relationships with our export partners could be hurt in the long run if processing facilities aren’t back up and running.

“If we can’t guarantee a constant supply of pork, they would look to other countries to supply that need,” said Kelpinski.