beef

Brian Grimmett / Kansas News Service

GREAT BEND, Kansas — Emerging infectious diseases like the coronavirus don’t just threaten humans. They’re also a major concern for the livestock industry and the U.S. food supply, with billions, if not trillions, of dollars at stake.

Brian Grimmett / Kansas News Service

WICHITA, Kansas — For the last two months, employees at Walnut Valley Packing in El Dorado have been working extra hours, even Saturdays, to cut, grind and package meat so it can keep up with a sudden spike in demand.

DODGE CITY, Kansas — In the days leading up to President Donald Trump’s mandate that all meatpacking plants stay open, workers in western Kansas’ meatpacking triangle were worried that precautions now being taken aren’t enough to slow the rapid spread of the coronavirus.

“We're right next to each other in the locker rooms,” Brandon Vasquez said about the possibility of social distancing at the National Beef plant in Dodge City, where he’s worked for about a year. “The lunch line ... they put stuff on the floor where we should stay six feet apart. But a lot of people are not listening and there's nobody enforcing (social distancing) in there.”

President Trump signed an executive order Tuesday to shore up the country’s meat production amid concerns about worker safety at meatpacking plants.

The order keeps beef, poultry and pork processors open by invoking the Defense Production Act.

Thousands of meatpacking workers across the country have contracted COVID-19, and plants in Iowa, South Dakota and Colorado have closed in response. The order says those closures not only threaten the supply chain but undermine critical infrastructure.

Update: Kansas Health Secretary Lee Norman said on Friday that Kansas has now identified 250 cases of COVID-19 among workers at the state's six meatpacking plants. The federal government has sent supplies to test thousands of people in southwest Kansas. Meanwhile, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is sending staff to the region.

GARDEN CITY, Kansas — Two western Kansas counties that are home to meatpacking plants have some of the highest counts of the coronavirus in the state. It’s a distinction that comes as the Tyson plant near Garden City said this week it has several cases among its workers.

None of the meatpacking plants, which make up about 25% of the national beef supply according to a Kansas State professor’s estimate, has shared a specific count of workers with a COVID-19 diagnosis. And the state health department leaves it up to county health departments to decide whether to provide the public with detailed case information.

Corinne Boyer / Kansas News Service

GARDEN CITY — Local officials on Wednesday confirmed multiple cases of COVID-19 at a meatpacking plant in Finney County.

The Finney County Health Department confirmed multiple cases of the coronavirus among Tyson employees at the company’s plant in Holcomb. But those officials did not say how many cases have been tied to the meatpacking plant, which employs 3,800 people.

Corinne Boyer / Kansas News Service

GARDEN CITY, Kansas — The continuing spread of COVID-19 among workers who slaughter livestock and package meat poses a growing threat to keeping the industry’s plants in operation.

GARDEN CITY, Kansas — Before June 2018, finding cattle that were potentially exposed to diseases was time-consuming and complicated, requiring a patchwork of information from auction houses, feedlots, producers and meatpacking plants.

That’s when Kansas spearheaded U.S. CattleTrace, filling a void when it comes to tracing deadly diseases in live cattle and possibly opening up new global markets for beef. Nine other states have signed onto the pilot program, which has distributed 65,000 ultra high-frequency tags that are scanned just like your online purchases.

Stephen Koranda / Kansas News Service

Vegetarian meat alternatives are growing in popularity, with "Chick’n Strips" and "Porkless Bites" filling freezer cases in some Kansas grocery stores.

But following a handful of states, a bill in the Kansas Statehouse would clamp down on how meatless-meat products are labeled. Backed by the Kansas Livestock Association, the bill would require more specific labeling for meat substitutes, with words such as "imitation" included in front of phrases like "meatballs."

During 2019, the curveballs thrown at farmers began with the partial government shutdown in January, when some U.S. Department of Agriculture agencies were closed. Spring brought a storm system—called a bomb cyclone—that dumped rain on top of frozen fields unable to make use of it, kicking off weeks of flooding exacerbated by additional precipitation. Planting ran later than usual and some farmers never got a cash crop into certain saturated fields.

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