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13 Journal of Animal and Environmental Law 65 (2022)


COVID-19 not only affected every hospital bed in the nation--if not the world; it also affected nearly every dinner table in America and beyond. Supply chain disruptions caused by the pandemic highlighted deep-seated problems with how we get our meat, and how difficult we make it for American farmers to sell to the family next door. Within a few months of the first reported case in the US, hundreds of workers from just two meat-processing plants on American shores became infected with COVID-19, and imports from around the world came to a standstill as factories and shipping companies were forced to shut down. Instantaneously, the US supply of meat seemed to contract, flying off supermarket shelves as Americans began to shelter in place. Meanwhile, nationwide closures of restaurants and school cafeterias posed serious problems for farmers who were forced to cull and dispose of their herds, unable to get them processed at commercial butchers that were either closed or backlogged. In a nation that raises more than 94 million heads of cattle alone, we somehow found ourselves in a meat shortage in 2020, with grocery store shelves looking as “patchy and unpredictable as those in the former Soviet bloc”. This article analyzes the state of American agriculture as it pertains to the meat industry, using the beef sector as a case study. This article also proposes potential solutions that should be considered in any stimulus package seeking to create long-term, impactful growth in rural America, where one in five Americans live.