(Editor’s note: This article has been updated as of August 12, 2021)
An April 27, 2020, CNN article titled “Meat processing plants across the US are closing due to the pandemic: Will consumers feel the impact?” reports that more meat processing and packaging plants across the United States have “suspended operations temporarily due to coronavirus outbreaks in the workforce.”
“Some of the country’s largest abattoirs (processing plants or slaughterhouses) have been forced to cease operations temporarily after thousands of employees across the country have tested positive for the virus,” the report said.
The report detailed that “pork processing plants have been hit especially hard, with three of the largest in the country going offline indefinitely”. The report revealed that the three plants together accounted for about 15% of the US pork production.
According to the report, “As many Americans remain under stay-at-home orders, industry experts say the demand for meat has increased. At the same time, meat processing is on the decline. With meat processing plants closing and reopening, experts warn production will likely continue on this current volatile roller coaster as long as Covid-19 outbreaks continue to plague the plants.”
The report quotes Julie Niederhoff, associate professor of supply chain management at Syracuse University, who says the country’s food supply is vulnerable “when we have supply and demand that can’t reach each other.”
In an interview with CNN’s Richard Quest, Impossible Foods’ Chief Financial Officer David Lee explained how his company bypasses this supply chain problem.
Lee explained, “95% of the customers of Impossible Foods are self-avowed hardcore meat eaters. But the way we make our product, with benefits to the environment and our health, vastly differs from (that of the animal meat industry). The meat industry has to grow the animal, transport it, slaughter it, process it, turn it into the meat it serves. We (at Impossible Foods) bypass the animal. We go straight to the plants. While we are very concerned about the current crisis and focus on safety, we have a vastly different way to make our product that is frankly far more efficient for us and far better for the planet.”
Lee further revealed that the situation CoViD-19 has forced upon society has created conditions that highlight the advantage of producing plant-based meat.
“Just last fall in September we were only in a couple of hundred locations. Now we are in nearly a thousand grocers because that’s where the meat eater is going today. We have seen a shift in consumption away from some food service and towards the home chef. As everyone is now sheltering in place, and we’ve been trying to adjust to ensure we meet the unprecedented demand that has been created for our product in grocery stores.
“To date, we have not seen any interruption in our increased level of supply,” Lee stressed.
Impossible Foods, founded in 2011 with headquarters in Redwood City in California, develops plant-based substitutes for meat products. Its signature Impossible Burger has been claimed to be available in more than 5,000 restaurants across all 50 states and in Hong Kong by the end of 2018.
If, or when, the threat of CoViD-19 has passed, would producing and consuming plant-based meat still be of relevance?
From a climate change perspective, very much so.
In light of the recent airing of the BBC One documentary “Meat: A Threat To Our Planet?”, BBC.co.uk posed this question to food and environment experts, “What’s the least environmentally damaging way to eat meat?
In the BBC article, Professor Peter Smith, Chair in Plant and Soil Science at the University of Aberdeen and Convening Lead Author for the United Nations’ body: Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), answered:
“All meats have a higher climate, land and water footprint than the same quantity of plant-based foods. In the worst case (meat from ruminants, like beef and lamb), this can be 10–100 times greater than plant-based foods.
“Chicken and pork have a lower climate footprint than ruminant meat, as they do not produce methane like the ruminants do, but the downside is that they are not able to eat grass, so compete with humans for plant-based foods.
“The best foods by far, from an environmental perspective, are plant-based.”
Chiara Vitali, Forests Campaigner for Greenpeace UK, said: “To avoid climate breakdown we need to reduce the amount of meat and dairy we’re eating by about 70%. Switching from, say, beef to chicken is causing havoc for the world’s forests. That’s because vast amounts of animal feed used to fatten poultry in the United Kingdom are imported from South America, where agricultural expansion means the destruction of natural ecosystems.”
In the article “How will the COVID-19 pandemic shape the future of meat consumption?” published in the US National Center for Biotechnology Information website (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7533480/) in August 2020, the authors discussed how the current pandemic had already begun to shift public awareness of illnesses linked to animals, resulting in short-term changes in patterns of meat consumption.
They concluded that the ongoing pandemic had already increased public awareness of zoonoses (transmission of diseases from animals to humans), which has led to short-term modifications in meat consumption. According to the authors, “Past zoonotic outbreaks such as SARS and swine flu, albeit on a much smaller scale and far less global, led to short-term reductions in meat consumption, a shift towards certain types of meat and a more pervasive change in perceptions of the health risks from meat consumption.” They added: “A possible consequence of the Covid-19 pandemic may be to catalyze the shift towards lower meat diets that we are beginning to see in some high-income countries.”
Watch CNN’s Richard Quest’s 2019 interview with Impossible Foods CFO David Lee here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-MGVcVYS6LE
CNN, Quest Means Business Youtube channel, BBC UK