The COVID-19 Omicron variant’s spread among U.S. meatpacker workers is threatening beef output and raising prices, according to Bloomberg.
New data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture shows beef output last week dropped 5.3% YoY, and wholesale prices jumped 1.3% on Monday, the most significant increase since August.
Rising meat prices have been the Biden administration’s core focus as food inflation is a big concern for working poor Americans. Biden’s polling data is near an all-time low as inflation wipes out wage gains.
The administration has blamed the meat industry for price-gouging. Still, it appears they have very little knowledge or are unable to or unwilling to admit problems actually driving inflation in the industry, which is related to labor issues.
“The beef market is finding some strength because you’re having trouble with absentee workers,” Don Roose, president of U.S. Commodities Inc. in West Des Moines, Iowa, told Bloomberg by phone.
Recently absenteeism at processing, packaging, and distribution of meat plants has recorded around 8%, up from 4-5%, said Mark Lauritsen, vice president of meatpacking at the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, representing thousands of plants employees.
“Meat plants don’t tend to be as bad as the general population,” Lauritsen said, adding that many meat workers are fully vaccinated and kept absenteeism relatively low.
However, the spread of the highly contagious omicron virus variant that can infect fully vaccinated people has begun to sicken workers from meatpacking plants to supermarkets. It is producing supply problems in the new year.
Cargill Inc., a top U.S. meatpacker, said it was experiencing a rise in infections at its plants, though all the plants are still operating.
Other food makers, such as Conagra Brands Inc. and Campbell Soup Co., are seeing upticks in absenteeism among workers due to COVID.
Meanwhile, Americans begin to panic as many have taken to social media to voice their concerns about food shortages at supermarkets.
This all means that food inflation will remain elevated through 2022 despite Biden’s attempt to squash it ahead of midterms.