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Meat shortages, which hurt Texas ranchers, are going to be the new normal according to experts

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Posted at 5:53 PM, May 07, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-07 19:54:30-04

Have you noticed your grocery bill going up? That is, for the groceries you can find on store shelves.

The problem has become especially noticeable when it comes to meat.

Slowdowns and problems at meat processors have hit home as meat packing plants and slaughterhouses adjust their operations to slow the spread of the Coronavirus.

Experts say the resulting slowdown broke the supply chain. The Texas cattle business, a $12.3 billion business, is now in jeopardy.

The change has left families scrambling for something to put on the dinner table. Nicholas Alvarez has trouble making a grocery list these days because he never knows what he'll find, or not find, at the grocery store.

He says meat shelves have looked particularly bare lately.

"Everything's empty and it's kind of creepy," said the Waco man.

The Coronavirus pandemic slowed meat production, with the U.S. producing 35 percent less beef and an almost equal reduction in pork.

"Yeah, it dropped plumb to the bottom," said cattle Rancher Craig Travers.

It didn't just hurt consumers; it really put the hurt on Texas cattle ranchers like Travers.

Why? Texas has more than 12 percent of the nation's cattle. It has more cows than 43 states have people.

And right now, Travers can hardly get a dime for any of them.

"Prices aren't good enough for us, you know? It's not enough to pay our bills and the profit margin just isn't there," he explained.

Somebody's making a profit because meat prices have already started going up - more than 8 percent.

And ground beef in some places has gone up 50 percent.

Jubilee Food Market Manager Robert Lopez struggles to stay ahead of the curve to give his customers the best price he can.

"Talk to my buyers or the people I order my groceries from, to see what is available, because we do get deliveries once a week, to see what I can get at the same frame before things go up," said Lopez.

It's even hit hamburger joints like Wendy's - where in some states, as many as one in three restaurants don't have enough ground beef.

Wendy's says its problem will last a few weeks, but Craig Travers doesn't see his cattle business recovering for about a year.

His solution? He says we need to quit importing beef.

Nick Alvarez agrees, saying he'd rather eat local than depend on mass produced food of unknown origin.

Meantime, his secret to navigating price hikes and meat shortages? Flexibility.

"You know, you can use pork you can use chicken, you can use shrimp you can use, whatever. Just because your recipe calls for this one certain item, you don't have to use that certain item," he said.

The president puts the meat industry under the defense production act, giving him more authority to keep slaughterhouses open and the supply chain running.

But with workers upset and worried about health issues, even a presidential order can’t guarantee a consistent supply of meat for now. Shortages say experts have become part of the new coronavirus normal.