The fallout from an ongoing labor shortage facing the U.S. pork industry and other agriculture sectors could significantly worsen due to the impact of COVID-19, the National Pork Producers Council said in a letter to U.S. government officials today. NPPC’s concerns regarding COVID-19 are labor specific. There is no evidence that pigs can contract the virus.
In a letter to the president and other administration officials, members of Congress, and state governors, NPPC called for expedited solutions addressing the need for more workers on hog farms and in pork plants. It also called on federal, state and local governments to work together to develop a response to COVID-19 that protects public health and, whenever possible, supports animal care and minimizes disruptions to the U.S. pork production supply chain and consumers. NPPC also called on the administration to develop support plans for hog farmers if labor-related bottlenecks in the supply chain prevent hogs from being marketed.
“School closures preventing parents from going to work and caring for their animals are already a concern in farm and plant communities,” said NPPC President Howard “A.V.” Roth, a hog farmer from Wauzeka, Wisconsin. “The specter of market-ready hogs with nowhere to go is a nightmare for every pork producer in the nation. It would result in severe economic fallout in rural communities and a major animal welfare challenge.”
The U.S. pork industry relies on foreign labor and needs a stable workforce. Even without the additional challenge presented by COVID-19, the labor shortage threatens to increase production costs and food prices for consumers. Existing visa programs are designed for seasonal agriculture, and reform is needed to address the animal care and other requirements of year-round livestock agriculture.