In our most recent article, we report that 20 giant US meat slaughterhouse/ packing plants have been forced to close due to workers falling sick from Covid-19. With nowhere to send their fattened piglets, farmers are euthanising 700,000 per week thereby removing them from the supply chain. And while pork supplies have fallen by a quarter in the past week, hungry people queue at food banks… This article in the Des Moines Register explains why in the US, the economic shocks affecting the agricultural industry will continue to be suffered for many months to come.
In the UK, small scale pig farmers are transforming their business models to stay viable during lockdown by selling directly to local customers. This highlights the resilience small scale local food producers have to shocks affecting the food system. Although Charlotte at Hampton Gay Farm told us that business on her organic pig farm carries on as usual, her local abattoir and butcher are struggling to keep up with demand during the lockdown due to staff shortages and social distancing.
We also recently interviewed John Mettrick, a small scale Peak District abattoir owner, who slaughters, processes and delivers all his meat in-house. He spoke about the need for a network of numerous small scale, local abattoirs in the UK as one of the essential pillars in a resilient, sustainable and high welfare food system. He says, ‘if one had COVID in a small plant, you would lose one small plant, the others could pick up the slack. Whilst in situations where you have massive plants the whole system goes down’.
If we want to avoid a US catastrophe we urgently need the UK government to support small scale high welfare farms and a network of small scale slaughterhouses to take up the slack when there is a shock to the system. This would require them to prioritise human, animal and environmental health, not corporate-dominated economies of scale and global competition. We need a system where workers are protected and valued, where their lives are not gambled through overcrowding and lack of PPE, which we see in the US, including Smithfield Foods. UK/US trade deal discussions launched on 5th May so please ask your local MP to ban low welfare imports and sign our petition to ban US-style factory farms in the UK.