Meat processing plants can't open soon enough. Or can they?
Every U.S. pork producer and all of us in the hog industry yearn to see all the idled and slowed pork processing plants reopened and running at full speed. We have all seen and read the painful stories of producers making the tough decisions to euthanize perfectly healthy animals. It always hurt when I was forced to put down a hog that was ailing and showed no sign of recovery; I can't even imagine what it must be like to bring a productive life to an end, a life that is so close to providing food for hungry mouths.
As I write this, plants are in the process of reopening. Just as every American is potentially facing a new normal brought on by COVID-19, our meat processing plants are also waking up to a new normal. This new normal may mean quick health checks as workers start their shift, additional personal protective equipment, more protective shields between line workers, greater physical distance between workers and more disinfecting stations.
Are these measures merely a temporary new norm, or will these become standard operating procedures? I have a feeling that, like it or not, we will see that these measures will become a permanent new norm. U.S. hog producers have learned that biosecurity measures put in place post-PEDV have worked pretty darn well in keeping a lot of other pathogens down. Lessons learned by producers from porcine epidemic diarrhea virus can translate fairly well over to controlling human diseases, and in this case, keeping meat processing plants operating at full speed. Or at least what may become the new full speed.
COVID-19 has hit all Americans with a lot of information on how it is transmitted, who is most at risk and best ways to prevent spread, but once the curve is flattened, will it surface again? So much information, and it seems like the more we learn, the more we don't know.
In the swine world we know that you can pretty much set your calendar for when the next porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome cases will flare up. Will COVID-19 be similar? Will it become a cool-weather malady, only to taper off in the warmth of summer? That remains to be seen.
Some processing plants wanting to add a second shift, may very well get their wish granted only because they need a second shift due to the need to physically space workers on the line. Increased spacing on the line may lead to decreased processing.
Let's get the meat processing plants reopened, but let's do with caution, being mindful of the health of the workers on the lines. Also, once we flatten the COVID-19 curve, let's not lose sight of what we did to flatten it. Just because the curve is flattened, doesn’t mean it won't heave up again. Remain diligent on practicing good biosecurity at home, on the farm, in the plant.
I pray that the curve gets flattened, and stays flattened, because I don't think the industry would be able to survive another go-around, that is if we survive this current state of affairs.