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What Two Shuttered Meat Plants Mean For PA's Agriculture Industry

Carolyn Kaster


On today's program: How will disruptions to the beef and pork production industry affect farmers and consumers long term; Pennsylvania hospitals are keeping their emergency plans from public scrutiny; and a local group is teaching Pittsburghers how to make their own cloth masks. 

Meat production industry burned by pandemic
(00:00 — 09:47)

Several of the country’s biggest meat production companies have announced plant closures amid the spread of COVID-19, including JBS in Souderton and Cargill in Hazleton. Even those still open are struggling to meet production goals—some because workers fear exposure to the virus, and others because employees have to be spread out to allow for social distancing within the facilities. 

That's according to Jonathan Campbell, meat extension specialist at Penn State University, who consults with regional facilities about product development, food safety, technical issues and more. Lately, he says, it’s all coronavirus, all the time.

Campbell says the JBS plant in Souderton is the biggest cattle producer on the East Coast, typically harvesting as many as 2,300 head of cattle per day. That plant hasn’t produced any meat for about two weeks, meaning farmers have had to figure out how to feed all those animals in the interim.

Consumers can help by sourcing their groceries from smaller producers, he says, and by not panic-buying products like paper, meat, dairy or eggs.

“Perhaps [now] they have more time to investigate what in their own communities, or at least within a 20- to 30-minute drive, would be able to support that local economy, support local farmers,” he says. 

PA hospitals stay mum about COVID-19 emergency plans
(09:57 — 14:52)

Pennsylvania hospitals were tasked with updating their emergency plans more than a month ago, but so far, the state health department has declined to release any details about what they contain. 

WITF’s Brett Sholtis reports that some have criticized that secrecy, especially as more health systems are seeking large sums of taxpayer relief

Masking up Pittsburghers as the protection becomes mandatory
(14:57 — 20:20)

Masks are now required to be worn at essential businesses across Pennsylvania, but finding them can be difficult. 

Artist and professional tailor Jenn Gooch decided "those who can, must" last month when she founded Operation Face Mask Pittsburgh to help provide DIY cloth versions to essential workers like grocery store employees and mail carriers. Since then, Gooch says more than 100 volunteers have stepped up to stitch, cut or sew more than 400 cloth masks so far.

The operation has since expanded from Gooch's garage in Bloomfield to free online tutorials and material guides. Tonight at 7, she's hosting her first live demonstration on Zoom, which she says will be weekly from now on. A limited number of mask making kits will be available ahead of each class. Registration is required.

90.5 WESA's Julia Zenkevich contributed to this report.

The Confluence, where the news comes together, is 90.5 WESA’s daily news program. Tune in weekdays at 9 a.m. to hear newsmakers and innovators take an in-depth look at stories important to the Pittsburgh region. Find more episodes of The Confluence here or wherever you get your podcasts.

Kiley Koscinski covers city government, policy and how Pittsburghers engage with city services. She also works as a fill-in host for All Things Considered. Kiley has previously served as a producer on The Confluence and Morning Edition.
Kevin Gavin is the host of WESA's news interview program "The Confluence." He is a native Pittsburgher and served as news director for 90.5 WDUQ for 34 years. Since the sale of the radio station by Duquesne University to Pittsburgh EPM, Inc. (now Pittsburgh Community Broadcasting Corp.), he served as Executive Producer of Special News Projects prior to being named as host of "The Confluence" five years ago.
Megan Harris is a writer, editor, photographer and curator for Pittsburgh's NPR News station. She leads editorial coverage for The Confluence, 90.5 WESA's live, one-hour, daily morning news show.
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