‘Farmers' Time to Shine': Meat Shortages Drive Consumers to Buy Local

With some of the nation's largest meatpacking plants still closed due to coronavirus outbreaks, some grocery stores are limiting sales, and one expert foresees higher prices and less of a variety of meats in New England

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The nation’s food supply chain has taken a hit amid the coronavirus pandemic and you may have already noticed that at your local grocery store.

A growing number of major grocery sellers have started limiting how much ground beef and fresh pork customers may buy, amid escalating concerns about the nation’s food supply. Some of the nation's largest meatpacking plants are still closed after suffering coronavirus outbreaks. 

Anna Nagurney, a professor at the University of Massachusetts Amherst Eisenberg School of Management, has studied supply chains for years. She says this is the worst she has ever seen it.

"This is creating huge shocks to the system, from the farmer's side, the supply side, all the way to the demand side. So we are potentially facing big, big shortages," Nagurney said. 

She says New England will see higher prices and less of a variety of meats. 

A coronavirus outbreak hit a Tyson meat processing plant in Portland that has hundreds of employees.

Stores are already putting limits on meat purchases. NBC10 Boston reached out to several local grocery chains about the issue and only heard back from Stop & Shop.

The company said they have limited meat sales to ensure product availability for as many customers as possible, but a company spokesperson says, "We are not seeing major impact as a result of meat plant closures...none of our suppliers have been closed for a significant period of time."  

Stop & Shop says it has been able to transition to alternative sources and supplies of meat, like getting more from suppliers who normally service the food industry. 

A lot of people are looking for local options, like Charley Cummings, the CEO of Walden Local Meat Company in Billerica. He says they have been seeing overwhelming amounts of demand, both from existing members and an influx of new member requests. 

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The company works with 75 partner farms in New England and New York to produce 100% grass-fed beef, pork, chicken, and lamb. They deliver to 20,000 families from Maine to New Jersey. 

"It really seems like it's a local farmer's time to shine, this is their moment," Cummings said. "It feels like there is a paradigm shift towards local food that was already occurring that just got accelerated by five to 10 years as a result of this crisis."

Walden says they have made changes in the company's operations to ensure the health and safety of workers. The company also aims to double its production. 

"Even beyond us, local farms have food," Cummings said. "It's a great time to consider switching from factory meat to local pasture-based meat. People can seek out farmers markets and farms in their own communities."

The seafood industry has also been hard hit by coronavirus with lower demand due to restaurant closures, but local seafood is being redirected to grocery stores, so consumers shouldn't see a shortage of it in the stores.

The coronavirus pandemic is taking an increasing toll on the nation's meat suppliers. Last week Tyson's largest pork plant announced it was suspending operations indefinitely after nearly 200 workers there fell ill. Tyson says millions of pounds of meat will disappear from store shelves until its plants can reopen safely.
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