With pork processing plants closed across the United States due to COVID-19 safety measures, a surplus of hogs now calls for drastic measures. American farmers are facing the grim reality of having to slaughter millions of hogs that have grown heavier than 300 pounds and can no longer be processed or sold.
“The system is built for certain sized pigs to go to the processor, and to be in the barns,” Heather Hill, a farmer from Indiana told NPR. “Each load of pigs we can’t sell, it definitely creates a domino effect, where we have a backlog of pigs.”
There is a daily surplus of about 200,000 hogs rejected by the market as a result of the overall 40 percent reduction in meat processing capacity. “That’s a million extra pigs that would have gone to market, but instead are staying on the farm, from just one week,” said Jason Lusk, head of the Purdue University agricultural economics department.
The meat industry has been hit hard by the pandemic, with thousands of workers testing positive for the infection, rendering them incapable of operation.
Pork processing plants are known for their efficiency, designed to cater to the exact daily needs of consumers nationally. Being unable to sell the extra hogs, farmers are resorting to their final option: euthanasia.
Third generation hog farmer Chad Leman expressed the emotional burden of the situation, saying, “There’s conversations going on every day…to figure out how we can most efficiently and humanely do this. This is not about euthanizing half a dozen animals. This is thousands and millions of animals. This is just an unforeseen calamity, really.”
Hog farmers are not alone in this grave dilemma. The pandemic has forced many business owners to make tough decisions in an effort to protect their survival and weather the storm, even when that means resorting to tragic solutions.