The food supply chain broke down in the first month of the coronavirus pandemic, and the disruptions could last well into next year.
The virus shut down major slaughterhouses early last month, but large producers are so dominant in the industry that grocery store shelves have emptied and farmers have been forced to destroy tens of thousands of animals, reported Bloomberg.
“There’s definitely some worry on our end -- what it’s going to end up costing us to purchase meat,” said C.J. Lefort, retail manager at R&R Quality Meats & Seafood in Redding, California. “We are seeing the supply dwindle pretty quickly and looking at our replacement costs and going, ‘What are we going to do?’”
Wholesale beef is selling at record highs and pork climbed to its highest price since 2017, and shoppers are seeing higher grocery bills.
T-bone steaks are up 13 percent over last year, ground chuck jumped 28 percent, and pork-sausage breakfast links and patties are up 13 percent.
Traditionally cheaper cuts could jump higher in cost than more expensive cuts like filet mignon, because restaurant demand has dried up, and that will force lower-income families to reduce their protein intake as unemployment rises.
So far, chicken production is down just 5 percent from last year, compared with 35 percent declines in other types of protein.
Cattle farmers had already been holding back animals to fatten them up for market before the April shutdowns, but they placed even fewer animals in feedlots after that -- which will limit supplies through the end of the year.
One agriculture investment strategist told Bloomberg he expected "ridiculously tight supplies" from September through December.