Food Industry Market
Eduardo Gonzalez discusses the meatpacking industry in light of COVID-19.
Hoboken, New Jersey — Normally, the summer season is a time for family cookouts and Independence Day celebrations. In 2020, however, the severe economic and health hardships brought by the coronavirus pandemic have put a damper on such outdoor festivities.
One of the industries hardest hit by COVID-19 infections has been that of the meatpacking industry, which has seen thousands of workers fall ill and numerous deaths resulting from the infection. Meat shortages are being felt in markets throughout the United States, and the U.S. meatpacking industry is exploring new technologies to help overcome the severe challenges posed by the pandemic, according to Eduardo Gonzalez, a Hoboken market analyst.
Contrasts Between the U.S. and European Meatpacking Industries
The U.S. meatpacking industry is characterized by cold and crowded facilities where animals are processed into food products. Because of the close working conditions and questionable cleanliness in these facilities, the meatpacking industry here has been plagued by frequent and highly-publicized food contamination scares. COVID-19 presents additional challenges, but instead of consumers experiencing illnesses, it is the meatpacking workers that are succumbing to the virus. Dozens of facilities have curtailed operations or closed altogether as a result.
By contrast, the European meat-processing industry continues to operate near normal capacity, and one would be hard-pressed to gauge the effects of the pandemic on this bustling industrial sector. The difference between U.S. and European facilities centers on one aspect: the widespread adoption of robotic and automated meat-processing systems. These systems serve to eliminate many of the contamination and infection-spread hazards rampant in U.S. facilities.
Technology to the Rescue
Robotic and automated meatpacking systems take the place of human workers, helping to improve safety and efficiency in the complex set of steps needed to process meat animals. Robots in European facilities measure carcasses, extract contaminants, and slice meat into serving-sized portions. These automated systems even handle many of the aspects of the slaughtering process. In a single pig-processing facility in Denmark owned by Danish Crown, Europe’s biggest meatpacker, over 18,000 animals can be processed each day with a minimum of human supervision.
More importantly, automated meat-processing robots slash the infection hazards workers are experiencing. Of the 8000 Danish Crown employees, less than 10 workers have tested positive for COVID-19. This has allowed meat processors to continue operations, easing the economic burdens felt by the industry and eliminating many of the food shortages experienced in the United States.
Investing in the Future: Safety and Efficiency
U.S.-based meat processors have taken notice of the promise inherent in automated meatpacking systems. Several U.S. facilities have already adopted meat-processing robots, allowing them to reduce the number of human employees in close proximity to one another. More animals are being processed in automated facilities, improving efficiency. These early-adoption facilities have also been better able to weather the pandemic, allowing them to continue operations while others remain shuttered.
While the start-up costs of robot meat-processing systems remain high, these systems ultimately improve employee safety, reduce workers’ compensation claims, and help to eliminate many of the expensive and reputation-damaging meat contamination issues like regional/national food recalls. Over time, robotic systems pay for themselves, ensuring a bright future for meat processors in the United States and beyond.
Read more from Eduardo Gonzalez on his LinkedIn