As the country continues to battle COVID-19, the Biden administration is taking steps to strengthen the nation’s commodity supply chains and ensure increased resiliency against major disruptions in the future. Almost every aspect of American society was greatly impacted by the pandemic, especially agriculture. In particular, the highly consolidated livestock and poultry sectors experienced significant disruption as slaughterhouses across the country became hotspots for infections. This forced the temporary closure of dozens of facilities, ultimately creating a surplus of healthy, market-weight animals with nowhere to go. (Due to a number of factors, the industrial farms could not simply retain these animals.) As a result, millions of chickens and pigs were killed on the farm—in many cases, inhumanely—and disposed of.
The US Department of Agriculture recently requested public comments on ways to increase the resiliency of the supply chain. AWI provided recommendations that included working with producers to develop contingency plans to help prevent mass killings of farm animals in the event of supply chain disruptions, and increasing local slaughter capacity that can serve smaller, higher welfare farmers and potentially improve animal welfare by shortening transport times.
The USDA has already begun addressing the issue of limited slaughter capacity by announcing the availability of over $55 million in grants for small and mid-sized meat and poultry processing facilities. The funds can be used to help cover the costs of improvements necessary to become federally inspected establishments. Previous AWI research has shown that humane slaughter oversight is higher at plants under federal inspection.