Thousands of piglets aborted every week, over 60k chickens gassed as restaurants remain shut amid pandemic

Millions of animals will eventually be euthanized because of slaughterhouse closures brought about by Covid-19

                            Thousands of piglets aborted every week, over 60k chickens gassed as restaurants remain shut amid pandemic
(Getty Images)

Piglets are being aborted and chickens are being euthanized across the country after the coronavirus pandemic saw restaurants shut and supply chains disrupted.

Iowa farmer Al Van Beek is one of many who have been directly affected by the crisis and revealed he was forced into the decision because he had nowhere to ship his full-grown pigs to make room for the 7,500 piglets he expected from his breeding operation.

He said he had ordered his employees to give injections to the pregnant sows so it would cause them to abort their baby pigs.

Another pig farmer, Dean Meyer, also from Iowa — which is responsible for producing a third of the nation's pork — said he was a part of a group of nine producers who have similarly had to decide to euthanize 5 percent of their newly born pigs.

That adds up to around 125 piglets a week, though he said that the number could increase as they have to continue euthanizing the animals until the disruptions ease. He also said they were killing sows to reduce their numbers as well.

The farmers didn't have a choice in the matter as some of the world's biggest meat companies, including Smithfield Foods Inc, Cargill Inc, JBS USA, and Tyson Foods Inc, have halted operations at around 20 slaughterhouses and processing plants in North America since April as workers have fallen ill to Covid-19.

The mass closure of restaurants around the continent disrupted the supply chain and overwhelmed storage, forcing farmers and processors to destroy everything they could not sell.

While dairy production has seen a drop of around 30 percent, pork has arguably been hit the hardest because of the unique conditions required for its production.

Hogs in the US are fattened for slaughter in temperature-controlled buildings, and if they are housed for too long, they can get too big and injure themselves. The barns need to be emptied by sending the adult hogs to the slaughter before the arrival of the piglets from sows that were impregnated just before the pandemic.

Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds, as well as both of the state's US senators, have written to the Trump administration pleading for financial help with culling the animals and properly disposing of their carcasses.

"There are 700,000 pigs across the nation that cannot be processed each week and must be humanely euthanized," they said in the letter.

Hog farmers across the country are expected to lose an estimated $5 billion for the rest of the year because of the disruptions caused by the pandemic, reported industry group National Pork Producers Council.

But it's not just the pigs either.

It was a similar story in Minnesota, where farmers Kerry and Bob Margen could do nothing but watch when a crew from Daybreak Foods Inc arrived with tanks of carbon dioxide to euthanize their 61,000 egg-laying hens.

John Tyson, chairman of top US meat supplier Tyson Foods, said millions of pigs, chickens, and cattle will eventually be euthanized because of slaughterhouse closures.

Even though the price for meat and egg in grocery stores has increased because of demand — the average price of retail eggs was up by as much as 40 percent for the week ended April 18, compared to a week earlier — processors are currently geared towards serving the food industry and cannot immediately switch to supplying these stores.

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