Concerns grow over food supply as coronavirus closes processing plants

Coronavirus puts food supply workers at risk

Last Updated Apr 14, 2020 7:20 PM EDT

Warrenville, Illinois — There are growing concerns about the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the food supply chain. Hundreds of workers at food processing plants in South Dakota, Iowa, Colorado, Georgia and Pennsylvania have been infected with the virus, forcing several plants to shut down. The ripple effects are being felt from farms to supermarkets.

At the JBS meatpacking plant in Greeley, Colorado, Saul Sanchez, 78, was feeling sick. But his daughter could not convince him to stay home. Sanchez died a week ago from coronavirus. Thirty others at the plant, which is now temporarily closed, have tested positive.

A similar story is emerging at the indefinitely closed Smithfield plant in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, where more than 300 pork processors have tested positive — half the entire state's cases of COVID-19.

All critical workers in a food chain that is now being stressed. Kaitlin Wowak is an industry analyst at the University of Notre Dame.

"We're seeing so many disruptions across a number of different product categories, particularly meat and dairy products throughout the supply chain," Wowak told CBS News.

Consumers are experiencing some shortages due to hoarding. But there is food. The main issue is distribution as more workers get sick.

At the other end of the chain are the grocery workers. Dozens of them have died from COVID-19 and their union says 3,000 are out sick.

The disruption adds up to more of an inconvenience for consumers right now — but it could get worse. It could mean more severe shortages.

"We've got to figure out a way to keep operating both for consumers and for producers," said Julieanne Potts of the North American Meat Institute.

Many crops are not here for another reason: farmers are destroying them to avoid surpluses — something which would drive down prices and create yet another problem along the food chain.

  • Dean Reynolds
    Dean Reynolds

    Dean Reynolds is a CBS News National Correspondent based in Chicago.