Coronavis and the Food Supply: News, Rumors, Spin, and Conspiracies

Mick West

Staff member
The temporary closure of Smithfield Foods' Sioux Falls pork processing plant seem to have been the trigger for media interest in the potential disruption of the US food supply chain.

Since the food supply chain is vast and complex, the initial stories reflect that. There's a lot of room for misinformation and confusion, which will inevitably be exploited.

The Russian state-sponsored site RT shoehorned it into a story about CANNIBAL RATS:
As media warns of WARRING CANNIBAL RATS in US cities, (human) food production quietly crashes from Covid-19 closures
13 Apr, 2020 22:55

America’s “brittle” food supply chain is going to result in supermarket shortages and processing plant closures, while farmers and ranchers will be forced to destroy their products, Massie warned, slamming people in the US government who “have no clue about how the economy works.”

Six of the largest US processing plants have already shut down, the Kentucky congressman said. The latest closure came on Sunday, when Smithfield extended the shutdown of its Sioux Falls, South Dakota pork processing plant because almost 240 of its 3,700 employees contracted the coronavirus. The plant accounts for up to five percent of total US pork production.

“It is impossible to keep our grocery stores stocked if our plants are not running,” Smithfield CEO Ken Sullivan said in a statement. “We have a stark choice as a nation: we are either going to produce food or not, even in the face of Covid-19.”
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Massie is a Libertarian-style Republican, and some conspiracy theories pop up in his Twitter comments.

Here more from Sullivan's statement. I think you need to read this, at least partly, in the context of Sullivan strongly advocating for reopening because his primary concern is the company's bottom line. Not that he does not have other concerns about health and welfare, but this is his job.
“The closure of this facility, combined with a growing list of other protein plants that have shuttered across our industry, is pushing our country perilously close to the edge in terms of our meat supply. It is impossible to keep our grocery stores stocked if our plants are not running. These facility closures will also have severe, perhaps disastrous, repercussions for many in the supply chain, first and foremost our nation’s livestock farmers. These farmers have nowhere to send their animals,”
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CNN wrote an overview of some of the issues:

It's time to talk more seriously about the food supply
Analysis by Zachary B. Wolf, CNN. Updated 1:41 AM ET, Tue April 14, 2020

"It is a cascading series of events here that is disrupting the entire food chain," said Tom Vilsack, the former Iowa governor who served as secretary of agriculture during the Obama administration, in an interview with CNN on Monday. "You start ending school lunch programs, universities shut down, food service shuts down, tourism and hotels have low occupancy and at the end of the day you have a tremendous amount of the overall supply of food having to be redirected."
He said the government will need to spend money to buy food from growers and give it to food banks.
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I think we'll see much more about this over the next few weeks. Food uncertainty and insecurity is a primal fear, which makes it a great news story. This will likely lead to an increase in hoarding, with a subsequent vicious cycle of more stories about empty shelves, more fear, more hoarding.


Senior Member.
Are they really equating a shortage of meat with a shortage of food?

Vegetarians exist, and producing less meat is actually better for the environment.


New Member
Are they really equating a shortage of meat with a shortage of food?

Vegetarians exist, and producing less meat is actually better for the environment.

TBF, vegetable based foods could easily be in as much trouble soon. I imagine plants for packaging vegetables have a similar setup to meat packaging plants.

I hate how the media reports about the shortages so people go out and panic buy. A vicious cycle.


Saw this video being posted of a texas cattle rancher complaining about the state officials telling him to kill and dispose of excess meat if he can't find someone to export to - this, as supermarkets in the US are facing meat shortages.


Clearly there is a breakdown in the supply chain that might not make sense to people without closer examination. I think the issue is with processing the meat. Meat packing plants are COVID hotspots because you can't really socially distance in that kind of environment. After the shutdown of the Smithfield Foods Plant in South Dakota, the CDC has a website up about meat and poultry processing guidelines because it is such a high risk job.

Exposure risk among meat and poultry processing workers

Workers involved in meat and poultry processing are not exposed to SARS-CoV-2 through the meat products they handle. However, their work environments—processing lines and other areas in busy plants where they have close contact with coworkers and supervisors—may contribute substantially to their potential exposures. The risk of occupational transmission of SARS-CoV-2 depends on several factors. Some of these factors are described in the U.S. Department of Labor and U.S. Department of and Health and Human Services’ booklet Guidance on Preparing Workplaces for COVID-19pdf iconexternal icon. Distinctive factors that affect workers’ risk for exposure to SARS-CoV-2 in meat and poultry processing workplaces include:

  • Distance between workers – meat and poultry processing workers often work close to one another on processing lines. Workers may also be near one another at other times, such as when clocking in or out, during breaks, or in locker/changing rooms.
  • Duration of contact – meat and poultry processing workers often have prolonged closeness to coworkers (e.g., for 10-12 hours per shift). Continued contact with potentially infectious individuals increases the risk of SARS-CoV-2 transmission.
  • Type of contact – meat and poultry processing workers may be exposed to the infectious virus through respiratory droplets in the air – for example, when workers in the plant who have the virus cough or sneeze. It is also possible that exposure could occur from contact with contaminated surfaces or objects, such as tools, workstations, or break room tables. Shared spaces such as break rooms, locker rooms, and entrances/exits to the facility may contribute to their risk.
  • Other distinctive factors that may increase risk among these workers include:
    • A common practice at some workplaces of sharing transportation such as ride-share vans or shuttle vehicles, car-pools, and public transportation
    • Frequent contact with fellow workers in community settings in areas where there is ongoing community transmission.
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Factory farming and food processing in general is probably going to be a lot less efficient then it usually is this year because of working conditions and worker health, not supply. Even in normal times we produce a surplus of food that never reaches store shelves, and this year it's going to be a lot bigger because of the virus.
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Senior Member.
this, as supermarkets in the US are facing meat shortages.
you need to process it if you want it in the supermarket.

At least 17 workers have died and more than 3,300 have become ill from coronavirus infections, reported the
Washington Post
. It said there were outbreaks at 30 plants owned by Tyson Foods, JBS USA, and Smithfield Foods in recent weeks and 15 plants closed because of them.

The USDA said it would deploy, as needed, assets of the
National Veterinary Stockpile
and “secure the services of contractors that can supply additional equipment, personnel, and services,” as it did during the bird flu epidemic of 2014-15. The stockpile includes equipment for mass culling of food animals, especially poultry

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Senior Member.
The super big problem is that if you are processing fresh meat to freeze it or to ship fresh refrigerated, that freezing or refrigeration would also conserve any virus that a worker might have deposited on the meat. You could buy your virus directly in the supermarket if they can't contain the outbreaks in the packing plants.
(This might actually be an application for UVC light disinfection.)

Canned food and boiled meat products such as luncheon meat or canned meat would be less affected, especially if it's packaged automatically.

I don't really like that the youtuber invokes patriotism in this. But maybe, just maybe people re-think what the industrialisation of this industry has done. If there'd still be smaller butchers locally, that farmer wouldn't have to worry.

Btw, what crops are they "plowing under coast to coast" in April??