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Impact on US Meat Consumption

COVID-19’s biggest impact on animals may be how it affects demand for their meat. In the US, panic buying drove fresh meat retail sales up 50-100% in late March. Even with restaurants buying less, Tyson Foods reported “unprecedented” demand, while poultry giant Sanderson Farms added extra shifts at its slaughterhouses. JP Morgan upgraded its recommendation for both companies to overweight, noting that demand may endure because meat is perishable. US wholesale egg prices hit an all-time high, at triple their level in early March. But supply disruptions may stop producers from filling this demand. Dairy farmers are dumpingmilk despite record demand because they can’t get it to market. And seven of the largest US chicken producers have already reported COVID-19 cases at their slaughterhouses, leading to slowdowns. At one Perdue slaughterhouse, workers walked off the job, with one saying, “We're up here risking our life for chicken." Plant-based meats, meanwhile, are also selling well. Despite anecdotal reports that they were the only items left in the meat aisle, Nielsen data showed meat alternative sales growth outpacing that of conventional meat — albeit from a much lower base. (This was well above the already impressive growth in US retail plant-based meat sales, which grew 18.4% in 2019.) And while Impossible Foods’ dependence on foodservice is harming it, most plant-based meat makers sell primarily through retail, and some are scaling up to meet record demand. A more enduring effect may be the financial crisis. In past recessions, meat production has declined: across the 2009 recession, US per capita meat consumption fell by about 10%, sparing over 500M farm animals. But in that case the recession coincided with record high grain prices, which drove chicken prices up. With grain prices now cheap, Rabobank predicts the coming recession may increase global chicken consumption, as cash-strapped consumers substitute it for more expensive red meat