There are thousands of pigs that cannot be slaughtered due to slowdowns at packing plants caused by COVID-19. A combination of new social distancing requirements and worker absences due to illness makes it impossible to slaughter and fully process all the pigs. Pigs are raised in a “just-in-time” system. When they are at market weight, they must be shipped to slaughter facilities to make room in the production farm buildings for more pigs.
Farmers have been forced to kill pigs on the farm and dispose of the carcasses because of the backup of animals. JBS is already using one of their plants to euthanize pigs and then the carcasses are thrown away. There are not sufficient employees to complete both slaughter and meat cutting. Euthanizing the pigs at a plant requires only 10 to 15 people. Proper euthanasia is the most humane way to get rid of them. Unfortunately, there are some farms killing pigs with methods that are highly questionable from a welfare perspective.
A possible solution
I thought of a way to get these pigs slaughtered and reduce the terrible food waste. During normal meat-processing operations, more people are required to cut up the meat compared to the number of people required for slaughtering. When thinking about this dynamic, a lightbulb went off in my head. Many of the meat cutters could be moved to the slaughter side of operations so the plant’s line speed could be increased. Instead of doing all the normal meat cutting, each pig carcass would come out of the cooler and be cut into three or four large pieces, including the shoulders, loins, bellies and hams. These large pieces could then be shipped out in refrigerated trucks in combo boxes that fit on a forklift pallet. Given the fact that the pork has already been federally Inspected, this modified approach could ensure the cold chain can be maintained. This idea sounds crazy initially, but taking all the current conditions and supply chain problems into consideration, the more reasonable it becomes.
How to sell the meat is the next logical question. There are communities in Colorado where you could drive up with a truck load of large pork pieces and sell them off the truck. To comply with packaging and labeling requirements, each big piece would need to be maintained at a safe temperature, securely packaged and properly labeled as 100% pork with refrigeration requirements.
My family lives in New York City and there are parts of the city where it would be easy to sell a truckload of this pork within an hour. There are other facilities that could also use large pieces of pork and cut it up. Military bases and prisons would jump at the opportunity to get fresh pork, for example. These operations have commercial walk-in coolers and the proper facilities for holding and cutting it. Rural areas would also typically have plenty of people who know how to cut up the big pieces. Even the regular grocery stores should get involved. If stores have a band saw in the meat department, the meat could be sliced up into smaller portions and packaged for the meat case.
We need to get everybody behind this initiative. If a store’s employees do not know how to cut up the meat, operators could recruit and hire local hunters to do the cutting. This horrendous sinful waste of food must be stopped. Besides the food-waste issue, there are also serious animal welfare problems that can arise when huge numbers of pigs have to be killed on the farm. My crazy idea should be considered as it could be absolutely the right thing to do.