The meat processing industry is grappling with its own COVID-19 outbreak. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), workers in at least 115 meat and poultry processing plants in 19 states were diagnosed with coronavirus. As of May 8, there were 4,913 cases and 20 deaths in these plants, which employ 130,000 people.

The outbreak led to updated federal safety guidelines for plant workers and even plant closures. Late in April, President Donald Trump ordered meat processing plants to stay open by classifying them as critical infrastructure.

Last year, the United States produced 105 billion pounds of meat. That's the equivalent of 320 pounds of poultry, pork, and beef for every US resident. Between cattle, pork, and poultry, there was $102 billion worth of American meat sold.

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Who works in the meat industry?

According to data from the BLS, about 527,000 people were employed by the animal slaughtering and processing industry in May 2019.

Of those, 324,000 were production workers, which includes people directly involved with meat processing.

Meat producers tend to earn an average hourly wage of $15.20 compared with the $19.51 average across the entire manufacturing sector.

According to the BLS data, there were 73,390 slaughterers and meatpackers (those in the industry working directly with the meat) across the country.

Five states—Texas, North Carolina, Georgia, Minnesota, and Iowa—account for 38% of the nation’s slaughterers and meatpackers.

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The United States is the largest cattle producer in the world, with $48.2 billion worth produced in 2019. With $31.8 billion in chicken and $3.8 billion in turkey produced in 2019, the US is also the largest poultry producer in the world. It's the third largest pork producer in the world, with $18.8 billion worth in 2019. About 11.7% of the beef (worth $7.7 billion) produced in the US in 2018 was exported. Meat processing plants are key components of the overall meat production industry, and the industry plays a major role in the country’s food supply.

Economic Research Service
Economics, Statistics and Market Information System
Occupational Employment Statistics (May 2019)