Notes on the Coming Meat Shortage

At my local Costco in Colorado Springs on Monday, fresh chicken breast was nowhere to be found. Nationwide, bacon prices doubled. Wholesale pork prices for ham, ribs and loins rose between 12% and 32% over the last seven days. COVID-19 outbreaks among the nation's major meat processing plants have shut down nearly 20% of the country's fresh pork production. Chinese-owned Smithfield Foods has shuttered five facilities so far because of sick and no-show workers; Tyson Foods warns "the food supply is breaking" and "millions of pounds of meat will disappear" by May 1 after the mega-corporation idled its largest pork plant in Iowa, a beef plant in Washington state and another meatpacking facility in Indiana.

On Tuesday, President Donald Trump invoked the Defense Production Act to compel the nation's biggest meat processors to stay open and stave off shortages. How exactly the feds will "address liability issues" (which Tyson Foods execs complained about to Trump) and force union leaders to comply remains unclear. Whether the order actually heads off mass hysteria is also iffy. As we saw with the toilet paper rush, Chicken Little-ism is contagious. Warnings about shortages induce shortages. Admonitions of "Don't hoard the Charmin" failed in the face of mob behavior. Same with "Don't hoard the hocks."

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