Boneless Chicken Scarce, Food Supply Chain ‘Breaking’ Amid Pandemic

Tyson Chicken. (Shutterstock)

The COVID-19 pandemic is taking a major toll on the North American meat industry, and boneless chicken in particular.

Food stores in the United States and Canada are stocking the shelves with chicken thighs and drumsticks, as opposed to the more popular boneless chicken legs and breasts, according to a Fortune report. The neighboring nations have reduced slaughter capacity due to novel coronavirus infections among workers at some of the largest meat processing plants. Some plants have even limited the types of cuts available to consumers.

President Donald Trump, citing his authority under the Defense Production Act, declared in an executive order Tuesday that “it is important that processors of beef, pork, and poultry (‘meat and poultry’) in the food supply chain continue operating and fulfilling orders to ensure a continued supply of protein for Americans.”

The food supply chain has been hurting since mid-March, when the COVID-19 outbreak intensified and shutdowns began. Tyson Foods (the nation’s second-largest processor of chicken, beef and pork) Chairman John Tyson warned Sunday that the U.S. “food supply chain is breaking” and that “there will be limited supply of our products available in grocery stores until we are able to reopen our facilities that are currently closed.”

White House officials have indicated they will issue safety guidance for food plants to help protect their workers from the virus.

On Tuesday, the President received praise from The North American Meat Institute, the oldest and largest association representing the U.S. meat and poultry packing and processing industry.

“We are grateful to (President Trump) for protecting our nation’s food supply,” President and CEO Julie Anna Potts wrote in a statement. “The safety of the heroic men & women working in the meat & poultry industry is the 1st priority. And as it is assured, facilities should re-open.”

According to the Fortune report, “outbreaks have shut down almost a third of U.S. pork capacity.” Meanwhile, the Canadian company Cargill Inc. has halted production at its beef plant in High River, Alberta, which “accounts for about 40% of country’s processing capacity.”

As of Tuesday morning, more than 4,400 meatpacking workers nationwide have tested positive for the virus, with at least 18 workers succumbing to the virus, according to USA TODAY/Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting tracking. Employees in at least 80 plants across 26 states have been infected with COVID-19. Additionally, there have been at least 28 closures of plants for at least one day.