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'How about next June?' Small meat processors backlogged as virus idles big plants

as the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak continues. REUTERS/Dane Rhys

Inside the small-scale Iowa abattoir Stanhope Locker and Market, owner Shaunna Zanker yawns with exhaustion as she listens to yet another farmer asking her to slaughter his pigs.

“I’m so sorry, but we’re booked through March of next year,” Zanker said on the phone. “How about next June?”

Slaughter operations like Zanker’s are booming as novel coronavirus outbreaks at major U.S. and Canadian meat plants force farmers and meat-loving consumers to seek out alternatives to a crucial supply-chain link.

Since 1946, this Stanhope, Iowa, shop – one of 1,500 independent American slaughterhouses - has processed a few farm animals from local farms each week and sold cuts of beef and pork to the public.

Now the family-owned business and others like it are overwhelmed and are forced to turn away farmers. Large meat plants across the United States and Canada are closed or running at reduced capacity. The result: not enough places to slaughter hundreds of thousands of cattle and pigs, and store shelves with little or no meat in major exporting countries that normally have abundant supplies.

Small-scale slaughterhouses account for a miniscule part of the market: Around 80% of U.S. beef is produced by four large companies. Some 1% of American hogs or less are processed at small-scale meat lockers, economists say.

26 May 2020

News Source Reuters

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