America's mounting meat crisis has been laid bare in pictures showing empty store shelves across the country after processing plants were forced to slow production or close amid outbreaks of coronavirus.
Two dozen meat processing plants across America have been forced to close at some point in the last two months while many others have been forced to slow output after workers got sick.
Shortages of poultry, beef and pork have continued despite stores limiting how many products each person can buy in order to prevent hoarding which has exacerbated the problem.
The crisis is also set to get worse despite Donald Trump using the Defense Production Act to force plants to stay open and will not peak until the end of this month, unions have warned, with shortages likely to continue even for months after that.
So far around 20 workers have died and another 6,500 have fallen ill due to coronavirus as cramped working conditions with employees often standing shoulder-to-shoulder on production lines has caused coronavirus to run rampant.
Nearly 900 workers - or 40 percent of the workforce - at a single Tyson facility in Logansport, Indiana, have tested positive for the virus.
Meanwhile, 126 workers at the Triumph Foods beef plant in St Joseph, Missouri have now tested positive for coronavirus. The local health department started testing all of the more than 2,200 workers at the plant after 92 asymptomatic employees tested positive. A further 32 employees who were experiencing symptoms have now tested positive and they are waiting for results for 1,500 others.
Cases at a JBS beef facility in Greeley, Colorado have doubled from 120 to 245 in just three days after it reopened this week following a two-week shutdown after an outbreak. A sixth employee at the facility has now died, according to a union official.
Holes have continued appearing on meat shelves across America as the country faces a supply crisis after dozens of processing plants were forced to close or reduce capacity after coronavirus outbreaks among workers (pictured, a refrigerated meat section at a Whole Foods in Brooklyn, New York)
Meat prices have soared and store owners have limited the number of products each customer can buy in order to keep products on the shelves, but stocks have still run empty (pictured, a Whole Foods in Brooklyn, New York)
The crisis is set to get worse despite Donald Trump using the Defense Production Act to force processing plants to keep going, with supplies running lowest in late May (pictured, a Whole Foods in Brooklyn, New York)
Experts agree that there is little to no risk of contracting coronavirus from food, even from meat packing plants affected by worker outbreaks.
Coronavirus is transmitted mostly through close contact with contagious individuals.
'Currently there is no evidence to support the transmission of COVID-19 associated with food,' the USDA said in a statement.
The FDA says: 'We want to reassure consumers that there is currently no evidence of human or animal food or food packaging being associated with transmission of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19.'
As well, coronavirus is known to be quickly killed at temperatures above 135 degrees. Cooking meat according to instructions should kill any harmful pathogens present.
President Donald Trump took executive action this week when he ordered meat processing plants to stay open amid concerns over growing infections and the impact on the nation's food supply.
The order uses the Defense Production Act to classify meat processing as critical infrastructure to try to prevent a shortage of chicken, pork and other meat on supermarket shelves that are already being stripped bare across the country.
The executive order, released Tuesday, said the closure of just one large beef processing plant could result in 10 million fewer individual servings of beef in a day.
The move has been welcomed by industry bosses who see it as providing protection from liability is workers get sick on the job. But union bosses have accused him of putting lives at risk while workers say they will continue to stay at home until safety measures are improved.
The order came soon after a lawsuit accused Smithfield Foods of not doing enough to protect employees at its plant in Milan, Missouri. A federal judge in that case ordered Smithfield to follow federal recommendations.
The United Food and Commercial Workers union said it would appeal to governors for help, asking them to enforce rules that workers be kept 6 feet apart and that employees be provided with N95 masks and access to virus testing.
'Does it make sense to have meat in the markets if it takes the blood of the people who are dying to make it every day?' asked Menbere Tsegay, a worker at the Smithfield Foods plant in South Dakota, where more than 800 workers have confirmed cases of COVID-19.
Two people have died, and the plant has been shut down since mid-April.
The threat of the virus has caused workers like Tsegay, a 35-year-old single mother of four children, to weigh whether to risk their health by working. Tsegay said she's not willing to do that.
'I'd rather starve and wait this out than go back to work,' she said.
Some of the largest slaughterhouses and processing plants across the United States have been forced to close in recent weeks due to outbreaks among workers. Others plants have slowed production as workers have fallen ill or stayed home to avoid getting sick
Despite the order from the White House many meat workers say they will refuse to go back to work unless their safety can be guaranteed after 20 died and 5,000 required hospital treatment for coronavirus (pictured, a Walmart in Florida)
Shoppers browse empty shelves at a Stop & Shop supermarket in Woburn, Massachusetts, after meat supplies began running low when coronavirus interrupted supply chains
Many stores -