As some meat processing plants in the U.S. shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic, some Brazilians see an opportunity to export a little more pork, broilers and beef -- especially to a recovering China.
After all, the country’s Ministry of Agriculture reports that Brazilian exports of fresh, chilled or frozen pork to China over the first four months of 2020 are up 153% in value over the same period in 2019. In the meantime, the same categories of Brazilian beef exports to China for the same four months are up nearly 86%.
Seven processing plants in Brazil’s state of Rio Grande do Sul have been temporarily idled since the COVID-19 pandemic began, and there are reports of other packers in other areas of the country reducing production a bit by spacing out work areas where possible. But on the whole, most of Brazil’s meat processing facilities are still chugging away. The meat processors’ association insists its member companies are strictly following health guidelines. Further, just the closing of a handful of southern processors will cause broiler carcasses to be deposited in landfills rather than handled in a slaughter operation that follows health guidelines.
Given that some processors don’t release the number of illness cases they’ve had in their plants, hard information on the number of meat sector workers ailing with coronavirus is not generally available. But Brazilian health inspectors have at least temporarily shut down some plants, and at least one has cut projected pork production in the short term in order to accommodate social distancing guidelines.
Opportunities for Brazil?
Still, Brazilian meat processing is apparently less affected than the same industry here in the U.S. And, in fact, some observers think there may even be an at least short-term opportunity for the Brazilian giant to take up the slack while some U.S. groceries limit the amount of meat purchased per customer domestically.
If the Brazilians can maintain what look like relatively lower numbers of processing worker illnesses over the coming weeks, the question may be whether they can translate this temporary advantage into longer-term gains.