LIMA — Is meat in short supply in Northwest and West Central Ohio?
The answer, according to one expert, is no.
“We’re not going to run out of meat. We have huge supplies,” said Curtis Knipe, associate profession and meat extension specialist for The Ohio State University College of Food, Agriculture and Environmental Sciences.
“We’ve been hearing here (in Columbus) that supplies could be low, and I get so frustrated that people are even talking about meat shortages,” Knipe said Monday. “I can see where people might think that, with some of the large processing plants being closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but they’ve been rolling closures for the most part. Some plants are opening back up. I just think the media is panicking people.”
A statement issued last Wednesday by the university said at least 4,400 workers had fallen ill across 80 meat processing plants in 26 states, causing 28 of those to close for at least one day. “Sensational headlines, meat company executives buying full-page ads warning that the U.S. meat supply could be at risk, farmers euthanizing animals and a presidential executive order have confused consumers and stoked fears” of a meat shortage, the press release stated.
Knipe said a convergence of additional events contributed to a temporary blip in the meat supply chain.
The Easter holiday, even though scaled back greatly this year for many families, “challenged the meat supply,” the OSU ag specialist said. “Then people got their stimulus checks from the government and many used that money to stock up on meat. Adding to that was the media telling people we’re going to run out of meat.”
Knipe conceded that larger supermarket chains, many of whom buy in bulk from large processors in Iowa or South Dakota, may have experienced snags in the availability of processed meat as processing plants at those locations have been hard-hit by outbreaks of COVID-19 in the workforce.
That’s why OSU experts are advising Ohio consumers to look for their meats in less conventional but more reliable sources.
“We’re encouraging people to buy locally; to go to the smaller meat processors or butcher shops. There are a couple of hundred of them scattered around Ohio,” Knipe said.
Judging by phone calls placed to area butcher shops and meat suppliers, business is indeed booming.
A spokesman at Leap Meats in Ottawa said Monday that all store personnel were “too busy to talk” and confirmed that business has been brisk.
At Walter & Sons in Wapakoneta, a young woman who answered the phone asked the owner if she wanted to comment for this story.
“She said to tell you we’re really busy but that everything is going fine,” the employee said. “She doesn’t have time to talk right now because we’re so busy.”
According to multiple media outlets, Kroger on Friday said it will limit meat purchases at some stores because of “challenges” being experienced by processors.
A spokeswoman at the Ruler Foods store on East Elm Street in Lima, owned by Kroger, said customers have been limited to “three per item” of meat products “since the pandemic first started.”
Cassie Jo Arend, corporate communications manager for Cooper Farms, said contracts with farmers around the company’s processing plant in St. Henry have assured a steady supply of turkeys for the company.
“We have the supply; the biggest challenge is on the processing side,” Arend said, adding that Cooper has lost zero days of producing deli meats and turkey burgers due to the novel coronavirus.
“Our company has placed a lot of emphasis on keeping our workers healthy,” she said.
The company has more than 2,300 employees in Ohio.