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Beef case at a grocery store Getty Images/Spencer Platt

Meat, poultry producers stepping up to provide food

North American Meat Institute and industry work to meet consumer food needs.

The North American Meat Institute (NAMI) said this week that meat and poultry producers are leaning in to continue efforts to meet the global demand for meat under difficult circumstances.

“As the coronavirus began to spread overseas, our members acted to protect their employees and develop contingency plans to ensure plants could still provide food for families around the world,” NAMI president and chief executive officer Julie Anna Potts said. “With increased demand in retail, our members acted quickly to adapt, taking steps to keep operations running at normal or increased capacity.”

Data and insights collected by IRI and 210 Analytics LLC show that meat and poultry retail sales increased 7.3% for the week ending March 8, 2020, and deli meat sales advanced 4.8% due to a shift from foodservice production. In absolute dollars, the biggest winners for the week of March 8 were ground beef (up $26.2 million), ribeyes (up $13.5 million), chicken breasts (up $6.2 million), chicken thighs (up $3.7 million), pork ribs (up $3.6 million) and ground turkey (up $3.5 million).

“In these uncertain times, the data show consumers are turning to meat and poultry to provide their families with the nourishment and comfort they need,” Potts said. “Our members are committed to meeting this need.”

Recognizing the pressure on employees, especially hourly employees with children out of school and day care, companies have acted immediately to enhance benefits, including paid sick leave and improving access to health care to treat or detect the virus and waiving co-pays and deductibles. NAMI is working with members and the federal government to anticipate and address other labor concerns.

Companies are educating employees on Centers for Disease Control & Prevention guidelines to prevent the spread of COVID-19. They also recognize the critical value of the personal effort and sacrifice of employees up and down the food supply chain.

“Perhaps most important is the generosity of member companies in donating meat or funds to food banks and other charities to support those in need in their communities,” Potts said.

NAMI is working with livestock groups, food and beverage industry trade associations, manufacturing organizations, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Congress and the White House to ensure that meat and poultry producers can operate as critical infrastructure.

“Member plants must be allowed to keep running to provide critical protein to the food supply chain,” Potts said. “The Meat Institute is encouraging members to work with state and local health authorities to enhance their understanding of meat production, especially the extensive and frequent cleaning and sanitation of facilities.”

Communicating industry concerns to USDA’s Food Safety & Inspection Service, NAMI sought and gained assurances that inspection services will continue and that actions are being taken to address labor shortages caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

NAMI also signed a letter to federal, state and local leaders across the country urging them to follow federal guidelines in exempting meat packing facilities, including suppliers and truck drivers, from gathering restrictions and curfews related to COVID-19. Emerging inconsistent policies have created confusion and delay in several areas of the U.S.

Mindful of the disruption the coronavirus pandemic has caused in the cattle markets, NAMI is working with the National Cattlemen’s Beef Assn. and is committed to do everything it can to alleviate the adverse effects the pandemic is having on these critically important suppliers.

“Everyone benefits from a transparent marketing system that ensures effective price discovery,” Potts said. “Simply put, packers need cattle producers, and cattle producers need packers, and the nation’s consumers need us working together.”

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