The United States beef industry may lose $13.6 billion due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a new study commissioned by meat lobby group National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) and compiled by a team of economists. In April, the Trump administration announced it would bailout the meat and dairy industry by purchasing $15.5 million worth of animal products. The study will be used to determine the allocation of Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act relief funds to the cattle industry. “Effects of COVID-19 are still manifesting and are likely to continue unfolding in the coming months,” the report summarized. “Without relief, especially at the primary producer levels, the foundations of the entire US beef supply chain are threatened.” 

The country is currently experiencing a meat shortage—with Wendy’s removing beef burgers from some locations and many stores limiting meat purchases—which has been caused by the shuttering of 20 large slaughterhouses, including Tyson’s largest pork plant, after a growing number of workers tested positive for COVID-19. This week, Business Insider reported that 4,585 positive COVID-19 cases across 15 states have been linked to Tyson workers alone. As slaughterhouses are beginning to reopen under Trump’s executive order, many workers fear that doing so will further expose them and their communities to COVID-19 and some have already filed lawsuits against meat companies for failing to provide them with a safe workplace. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has reshaped the meat industry and, according to Wall Street analyst Jim Cramer, in a way that primes plant-based meat companies to deliver protein in a more sustainable, efficient, and safe manner. 

As meat shortages continue, market research firm MarketsandMarket predicts plant-based meat sales will grow from $3.6 billion in 2020 to $4.2 billion by 2021, driven, in part, by consumer fears about animal-borne illnesses such as COVID-19. Plant-based meat companies are stepping up to fill the void left behind during the meat shortage, with Impossible Foods expanding its retail distribution to 1,700 Kroger stores and Beyond Meat planning to slash prices and offer “value” bulk packs to attract new customers to its plant-based meat products.

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