Coronavirus-related disruptions in the beef supply chain have spurred changes. Will they last?

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Eight Greeley JBS employees have died from COVID-19 and at least 300 have tested positive for the virus. Beef, poultry and pork processing plants nationwide have had outbreaks during the pandemic, due in part to the fact that employees work close to each other for several hours. Recent testing showed that 277 workers at a Long Prairie, Minn., beef plant had the coronavirus, the Star Tribune reported.

The result has been a backup at feedlots and lower prices for ranchers because of the growing number of cattle in the pipeline. On the other end of the supply chain, people are paying more for meat in the stores and can’t always find what they’re looking for. Grocery stores have put per-customer limits on some meat purchases.

Other results have been a huge surge in demand by both ranchers and consumers for the services of smaller processing plants around the state. The question that ranchers, processors and agriculture experts are asking is whether current concerns about the health and reliability of the beef supply will produce lasting changes.

“There’s been some awakening in the general public about some of the challenges of how the food product system currently works with its centralization and control by a very small group of large packers. There’s just a renewed interest in buying locally and regionally,” said Julie Sullivan.

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