Pig farmers are reportedly killing piglets and giving sows abortions as the coronavirus crisis upends the American meat industry.
Some farmers have resorted to such measures as they run low on space to house their livestock now that the pandemic has shut down about 20 processing plants and slaughterhouses in North America, according to Reuters.
Roughly nine producers in Iowa including farmer Dean Meyer have started euthanizing some 125 newborn piglets each week until they get a break from the recent disruptions, the news agency reported Monday. The tiny pig corpses are reportedly composted so they can be used as fertilizer.
Another Iowa farmer, Al Van Beek, had his workers give pregnant sows abortions by injection because the full-grown pigs on his farm had nowhere to go, according to Reuters. Van Beek reportedly expected his breeding operation to produce 7,500 piglets.
“We have nowhere to go with the pigs,” Van Beek told Reuters. “What are we going to do?”
Those farmers aren’t alone in grappling with what the US Department of Agriculture has called an “unprecedented emergency” for the meat industry brought on by the coronavirus.
The pork industry has started talks with federal regulators about euthanizing thousands of pigs amid concerns about overcrowding on farms, possibly by gassing them in empty buildings, The Wall Street Journal reported Monday.
Gov. Kim Reynolds of Iowa, which provides about a third of the nation’s pork, has said 700,000 pigs across the US cannot be processed each week and have to be humanely euthanized. And the chairman of Tyson Foods — one of the big companies that has shuttered pork plants over coronavirus fears — recently warned that millions of pigs, chickens and cattle could be “depopulated” as a result of the plant closures.
“The food supply chain is breaking,” John H. Tyson said in a message published in major newspapers Sunday.
The USDA pledged last week to help meat producers find “potential alternative markets” for their livestock and to advise them on “depopulation and disposal methods” if needed. But Reynolds and Iowa’s two senators urged the feds to do more in a Monday letter to Vice President Mike Pence, who is leading the Trump administration’s coronavirus task force.
“This is an emergency in our rural communities unlike any seen in recent history,” the letter reads. “Swift and decisive action will be required to preserve Iowa’s farm communities and ensure that safe, affordable and abundant food remains available in this crisis.”