Across the globe, the meat industry has been hit particularly hard by the pandemic. This labor-intensive sector is a breeding ground for respiratory viruses such as SARS-Cov-2 — just like prisons or nursing homes. Meat plants are made up of closed, refrigerated spaces — ventilation systems are built to avoid external contamination — where hundreds, sometimes thousands, of people work “shoulder to shoulder,” manipulating animal protein.
In the U.S., over 17,000 meat workers might have been infected with the coronavirus so far, according to the nonprofit group Food & Environment Reporting Network. Over 100 plants were shut down across the U.S., and companies spent hundreds of millions of dollars to adapt to the “new normal,” purchasing protective gear or better ventilation systems. Even if most plants are reopening, a May report from CoBank, which specializes in rural customers, warns of a possible 35-percent drop in meat supplies this year.