WASHINGTON – Cattle, swine and broiler processing facilities are operating at more than 95% of their average capacity compared to this time in 2019, according to the US Department of Agriculture’s updated production capacity data of federally inspected meat and poultry processing plants. The agency said beef facilities are operating at 98%, pork facilities are at 95% capacity and poultry facilities are operating at 98%.

“President Trump took decisive action to ensure America’s meatpacking facilities reopen in a safe way to ensure America’s producers and ranchers will be able to bring their product to market,” said Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue. “I want to thank the patriotic and heroic meatpacking facility workers, the companies and the local authorities for quickly getting their operations back up and running, and for providing a great meat selection once again to the millions of Americans who depend on them for food."

Steve Kay, editor and publisher of Cattle Buyers Weekly, said cattle slaughter last week was down 4.4% compared to last year and hog slaughter was down 1.3%. As a result, Mr. Kay calculated that based on total industry capacity, beef plants ran at 87.6% of capacity and pork plants were at 88.4% of capacity, on average.

The USDA also said that US meatpacking facilities are safely resuming operations following President Donald Trump's executive order on April 28, citing the Defense Production Act of 1950, to keep meat processing plants open to hold off possible shortages of beef, pork, chicken and other meats. Under the order, “the Department of Agriculture is directed to ensure America’s meat and poultry processors continue operations uninterrupted to the maximum extent possible.” 

The agency noted that the order directed the facilities to follow the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Prevention and Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) guidance for reopening. The measures include testing, temperature checks, face coverings, social distancing of employees where possible and more. Many meat companies are also raising pay, offering bonuses, providing paid sick leave and increasing health benefits.