November 9, 2021

The North American Meat Institute (NAMI) has submitted testimony to the US House Agriculture Committee saying that labour shortages continue to challenge the country’s food supply chain and are raising the cost of all food for consumers.

NAMI, one of the oldest and largest trade associations representing packers and processors of meat and processed meat products in the US, has been vocal in defence of its members who account for more than 95% of US meat output and 70% of turkey production.

“Just six weeks ago, the Biden administration tried to blame the meat and poultry industry for the rising cost of food,” said NAMI president and CEO Julie Anna Potts. “Congress will (now) hear from other food manufacturers, shippers, input suppliers, growers and retailers enduring the same labour shortages up and down the food supply chain that are driving the record cost of food during the holidays.”

A double whammy for meat producers

Potts’ testified to the House Agriculture Committee last week and noted that members are still recovering from the pandemic, which exacerbated existing labour challenges at the same time as consumer demand went up. That spike in demand happened as the packing sector’s ability to process livestock was experiencing operational constraints, something that has continued into this year.

Julie Anna Potts: “The additional slowdown due to slower line speeds is a self-inflicted wound.”

NAMI has supported legislation to allow the meat and poultry industry access to an expanded, year-round agricultural guestworker programme because the current, seasonal scheme is no longer enough. Throughout 2021, worker shortages have persisted with absenteeism at 20% in some cases, as François Léger of FPL Food testified last month.

In addition to labour, Potts outlined other challenges to production such as ports congestion which will require improved port efficiencies. The Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach recently said they would extend hours of operations but NAMI says this must be matched with adequate labour, including truck drivers, along with extended warehouse hours to improve cargo flows and line speeds.

In June NAMI provided information to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) regarding worker safety practices and draft criteria that could be included in a line speed waiver. Since then, the Meat Institute says nothing has been issued by the USDA. This had led to the industry working at a competitive disadvantage since 1 July with hog slaughter capacity much reduced. “With hog plants already running below capacity because of lack of labour, the additional slowdown due to slower line speeds is a self-inflicted wound,” noted Potts.

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