The meat industry’s future retail pricing is in limbo, experts said, in anticipation of the Biden administration's forthcoming emergency temporary health guidelines amid the coronavirus pandemic’s squeeze on the economy.
Earlier this year, White House said the Occupational Safety and Health Administration would release those standards on March 15.
But that day passed two weeks ago, and there was still no word from the administration heading into the weekend. Experts from the meat sector predicted heavy new regulations.
The Biden administration is focusing on “re-regulation,” a large shift away from the Trump administration’s deregulation push, Andrew Harig, a policy expert at the Food Industry Association, told attendees at the virtual 2021 Annual Meat Conference on Wednesday.
This echoes concerns about the new ETS within the Meatpacking community: possible further regulation might slow down the production again, months after the coronavirus disrupted packaging plants around the country.
North American Meat Institution’s spokeswoman Sarah Little told Fox News that regulations like mandatory 6-foot social distancing and N95 masks would definitely affect production. She said industry workers need vaccinations to keep things moving.
NAMI has called on the Biden administration to urge all states to prioritize vaccine access for the diverse meat and poultry workforce.
“The rural community is underserved,” she said on a phone call Friday. “And lots of our workers belong to minority groups.”
U.S. customers saw empty fridges at grocery stores last year when meatpacking giants like Tyson had to cut production when the slaughterhouses became coronavirus hot spots.
In response to last year’s meat shortage, and under the pressure of a previous Federal investigation, top four beef processing companies - JBS, Tyson, Cargill, National Beef - have organized vaccinations for their own employees on a large scale.
Tyson Inc. is offering free, onsite COVID-19 vaccinations to more than 4,000 employees working at its largest beef plant in Dakota City, Nebraska.
The Meat Institute trade group claims that case rates for meat and poultry workers was 85% lower than in the general population in the first two weeks of this March citing data from New York Times and The Food & Environment Reporting Network.
And the prices of beef and other meats will continue to climb, according to a recent report released by U.S. Department of Agriculture.
When asked whether the retail price inflation in the meat sector would affect domestic buyers, former USDA economist John Nalivka said a slight increase would be tolerable since meat products have been very affordable in the U.S.
“Americans don’t spend a lot of money on food,” Nalivka told Fox News on a phone interview on Friday. “People only spend about 10 to12% of disposable income on food.”
John S. Nalivka, who has 30 years of experience in livestock and meat industry consulting, explained that the U.S. has built a very efficient meat industry that allows affordable meat prices.
Any “political change” to adjust the industry model on large-scale would lower the efficiency and cause a sharp increase in price, the expert warned.