Mexican meat processors are taking advantage of the coronavirus pandemic to increase beef exports to the United States – a situation that has some American cattle raisers fuming.
Beef exports are set for 12% growth this year, the president of Mexico’s main cattle growers association told Reuters, with sales to U.S. buyers up 10% so far in May. The exports are alleviating shortages in American stores and restaurants.
Mexico’s big advantage is the relative decentralization of its meat industry. It has 30 federally regulated plants, none of which run more than one daily shift, and some of which have less than two dozen employees. In America, on the other hand, four companies (Tyson, JBS, Cargill and National Beef Packing) account for more than 80% of beef processing capacity, often from plants that run 24 hours a day.
Because Mexico’s meat processors don’t rely on large, constantly running plants, they find it easier than the American giants to institute distancing between employees, scan for illness several times a day, and take other anti-COVID measures. Less than 20 Mexican processing plant workers across the entire country have contracted COVID, and no meat plants have been shut down.
The prospect of increased imports from Mexico has irritated American cattle raisers, who have excess animals that they say can’t get to market because American beef processing plants are backed up. In many cases they’re catching up after closures.
“I know guys who have had cattle to sell for five weeks, and they can't even get a bid,” a cattleman’s association official told Reuters.