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US meat plant closures mean pigs are gassed or shot instead

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One Minnesota hog farmer sealed the cracks in his barn and piped carbon dioxide through the ventilation system. Another farmer has considered gassing his animals after loading them into a truck. And a third shot his pigs in the head with a gun. It took him all day.

Coronavirus outbreaks at meatpacking plants across the Midwest have created a backlog of pigs that are ready for slaughter but have nowhere to go. Hundreds of thousands of pigs have grown too large to be slaughtered commercially, forcing farmers to kill them and dispose of their carcasses without processing them into food.

And yet, around the United States, scores of people are struggling to find enough to eat, lining up at food banks after losing their jobs in the economic fallout of the pandemic.

Distribution issues in the food supply chain have caused grocery stores and fast-food restaurants to run low on meat.

In Iowa, the nation’s largest pork-producing state, agricultural officials expect the backlog to reach 600,000 hogs over the next six weeks.

In Minnesota, an estimated 90,000 pigs have been killed on farms since the meat plants began closing last month.

The crisis mostly affects farmers with large pork operations who usually send pigs to be slaughtered in giant meatpacking plants run by companies like Tyson and Smithfield.

But the obligation to kill the animals themselves, and then get rid of the carcasses, is wrenching. Last month, Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and other leaders in Iowa asked the White House’s coronavirus task force to provide mental health resources to hog farmers, as well as money to compensate them for the pigs they have had to kill and not turned into meat.

On Tuesday, a bipartisan group of 13 senators sent a letter to congressional leaders asking for funding for pig farmers.

Last month, President Donald Trump ordered meat processing plants to keep running. And the federal government has announced plans to buy $100 million a month in surplus meat.

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