Minnesota producers euthanize livestock; food supply stable

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Producers are having to euthanize pigs and chickens because of decreased demand caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, but Minnesota’s food supply remains stable, Minnesota’s top agriculture official said Monday.

However, state Agriculture Commissioner Thom Petersen said consumers may see some higher prices, especially if the coronavirus outbreak continues.

Minnesota’s meat processing capacity has taken a big hit as slaughterhouses temporarily shut down due to workers becoming sick with COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. The Smithfield pork plant in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, which takes in Minnesota hogs, closed indefinitely, followed by the JBS pork plant in Worthington, in southwestern Minnesota. Petersen said it may be some time before both plants reopen.

As of Sunday, Minnesota has recorded 175 cases of COVID-19 associated with meat processing plants, according to Kris Ehresmann, the infectious disease director at the Minnesota Department of Health. There have been no deaths.

But Petersen noted that Comfrey Farm Prime Pork in Windom, which temporarily closed last week after at least one employee was diagnosed with COVID-19, has since reopened.

“This continues to be a very difficult situation for our farmers with these plants being down,” Petersen said during Monday’s daily briefing on Minnesota’s response to the pandemic. He said the state is working on increasing capacity at small meat plants around Minnesota.

“The decision to euthanize animals is not done easily, and it’s very emotional,” Petersen said.

While some farmers are euthanizing livestock because of reduced demand, Petersen said Minnesota’s food supply is stable, thanks to a good amount of product in stores and in storage. But he said there will be occasional disruptions to the supply chain.

“Our goal is to get the plants running and keep them running,” Petersen said.

Minnesota health officials said Monday 214 new cases of the coronavirus have been confirmed in the state in the last 24 hours, and 14 more people have died from the disease — including 12 people who lived in long-term care facilities.

The new numbers bring the state’s death toll to 286, with a total of 3,816 confirmed cases statewide. Health officials have said the real number of Minnesotans infected with the coronavirus is likely much higher because most people don’t qualify for testing. More than 1,800 people no longer need to be isolated.

The state reported 292 patients are currently hospitalized, including 122 in intensive care.

The number of cases in Minnesota continues to grow just as stay-at-home restrictions are being eased Monday. Last week, Gov. Tim Walz outlined plans that allow up to 100,000 people to return to work this week, though schools will remain closed for the rest of the academic year.

Most of Minnesota’s cases are in Hennepin County, but there are 399 cases in Nobles County, the side of the recently shuttered JBS pork plant.

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia.

Minnesota producers euthanize livestock; food supply stable