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Food and Beverages | Thursday, September 17, 2020
In the wake of the coronavirus outbreak, meat production rates have declined drastically in the US; thus, automation could solve the problem.
FREMONT, CA: The pandemic has put the food supply chain under immense pressure globally. The strain was too much for some, which buckled in between unprecedented demand as consumers looked to stockpile goods. One such supply chain that was unable to meet the demand was that of the US meat industry. The US meat production slumped as the workers were unable or unwilling to go to work. The sector emerged to be a hotspot for the infection in part due to the lack of automation observed in the industry compared to other categories. As the infection rates were increasing, parts of the US meat industry faced criticism for its production processes. In order to protect the staff, some of the manufacturers shut the plants temporarily for deep cleaning and to implement more health-and-safety measures.
The pork and beef slaughter took the hardest hit, with plant closures and fewer employee driving weekly slaughter declines of as much as 35 percent versus the year-ago period. In contrast, maximum poultry plants have seen only minor disruption.
The industry has now almost recovered to complete production, but still, the workforce issues linger. As a result, numerous US meat companies are exploring and ramping up the amount of automation they use in their plants.
There have already been advances in grading, packing, and plant logistics tech at work. The reality is that producing animal protein means managing live animals that differ in size, weight, and other dimensions making automating the initial part of the supply chain complex. As companies are getting closer to the finished products, the opportunities for automation is increasing.
While processors of red meat have started to make inroads in terms of automating their processes, experts say the poultry industry has been quicker to adopt and embrace automation.