The Covid-19 pandemic has posed a huge challenge for many of the nation’s farm operations. At one point in late-April, at least nineteen meat processing facilities were closed down because employees tested positive for the virus. It is important to keep workers safe, but it’s also critical to protect the country’s food supply. Much like first responders, we have had to keep certain “essential” operations functioning. In early
April over 7,000 police officers in New York City reported ill but the police force did not shut down. In similar fashion, food processing had to do its best to keep operating with new safety protocols despite the pandemic. Imagine the panic in grocery stores if the food supply was compromised. It would make the run on toilet paper pale in comparison.
The disruptions in the meat processing business have had a largely hidden ripple effect. Most farms employ a highly synchronized production process of growing food animals and need to keep moving them to processing as younger animals are taking up barn space. Iowa processing plants have lost roughly one-third of their capacity. With processing slowed or shut down, farmers have nowhere to keep or offload matured livestock. The dilemma of having too many animals and no place to house them has hit farming operations hard.
As a CPA, I have worked with pork producers for three decades. Their livelihoods are at the mercy of Mother Nature. Livestock farmers have little control over their input costs, which are primarily driven by biology and herd health, as well as the corn and soybean markets. And revenue is ultimately dictated by what meat processors are willing to pay for pork which, today, is very depressed as restaurants are shut down or at a percentage of capacity. On top of all these pressures, the plant shutdowns and slowdowns require farmers to contemplate the unthinkable: humanely euthanizing animals. This is without precedent and will result in fewer farms able to survive.
One litter of pigs is generally worth $1,500. Farming operations produce tens of thousands per year to cover their costs and provide food for the country. Yet the financial headache of humane euthanasia of perfectly good animals takes a backseat to the emotional toll that animal destruction has on farmers. I’ve witnessed their agony firsthand.
A farmer’s job is to nurture and care for these animals so they can provide people around the world with affordable protein. Unlike other jobs, they don’t take weekends off or choose how many shifts to work. They must care for their animals around the clock, 365 days a year. Destroying a healthy, living animal for no reason not only undermines their life’s work but on an emotional and personal level associated with the senseless destruction of life.
As COVID-19 forces farmers to make difficult decisions about their livestock, activist groups with vegan agendas and who subscribe to the radical goal of ending all animal agriculture, are vilifying their work. One of these organizations, Direct Action Everywhere, recently used underhanded tactics and misinformation to achieve that goal.
To “expose” tragic, but necessary, mass euthanasia at Iowa Select Farms, operatives invaded farms and placed undercover cameras to capture and then edit deceptive footage to hoodwink the public. Anyone could record several hours or days of video in your home or workplace, cut it down to four minutes, add ominous music, and make you look bad. It’s clearly not journalism or an accurate portrayal. And trying to “capitalize” on such tragic circumstances that producers like Iowa Select Farms is faced with is deplorable.
The pandemic has killed over 100,000 Americans and sparked severe economic distress for nearly every sector of the U.S. economy. Hidden from view are the farmers. They are not the boarded-up business operations being attacked in major cities. These are the people who take risks most businesspeople would never embrace while playing a key role in feeding the world. Now is not the time for activists to pile on.
Steve Weiss is President of NutriQuest