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Tens of thousands of pigs are being euthanized each day and dumped into landfills or used as biofuel.
That’s because pig farmers have a big problem — oversupply. Three hundred-pound hogs that should’ve gone to market are now being sold for fractions of a dollar or straight up given away on Craigslist. And that’s under some of the best of circumstances. In many cases, the farmers’ only solution to the pig problem is euthanasia.
It all started with a massive outbreak of COVID-19 at the major meatpacking plants. Almost 3,500 workers tested positive for the virus and at least 17 died. That incited public outrage and forced nearly two dozen plants to close.
The shutdowns shone a light on a dark American reality: An oligopoly controls the meat industry, and it just broke the supply chain.
The U.S. pork business is dominated by three companies: Smithfield, JBS, and Tyson. They control nearly two-thirds of our pork supply. One of their large-scale slaughterhouses can turn as many as 20-thousand pigs a day into bacon, sausages, or lunch meat. So when 22 of these facilities went offline, one-quarter of U.S. pork processing capacity went with them and left a massive pile-up at overcrowded barns.
“I’ve got pigs in the barn getting big, and I’ve got nowhere to go with them,” said Dave Woestehoff, a fifth-generation farmer from Minnesota, whose family farm sells to Smithfield’s slaughterhouse in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.
“From an ethical standpoint, I don’t want to waste those animals. That isn’t how I do business,” he added.
This cog in the pork supply chain explains the empty grocery store shelves and higher pork prices, too. Kroger, the nation’s largest grocer, is already limiting customers’ purchases of ground pork, as are U.S. commissaries. The meat shortage is bad news for a country which consumes over fifty pounds of pork per person, per year.
If you want to bring home the bacon, there’s still a way— source local. That’s what Ben Turley does. He’s a butcher and co-owner of The Meat Hook in Brooklyn, New York. Turley’s protected his small business from the big meat companies by sourcing directly from local farmers.
“We’ve always purposely existed outside this system for this exact a reason. We have different ideas about what responsibility and sustainability looks like to these larger companies. Responsibility for us is, number-one, to our staff and to make sure our customers who come in feel safe.”