Meat and Poultry Could Be Getting More Expensive, Thanks to Hurricane Florence
Hurricane Florence ripped through the Southeastern half of the United States last week, leaving nearly $22 billion worth of damage in its wake, according to early estimates. While communities affected by the natural disaster take time to rebuild, there's another factor that could even affect those who live outside the region—the price of meat and poultry in your local grocery store.
According to the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, which has kept an eye on livestock within the state, millions of farm animals drowned in the flooding. Nearly 3.5 million chickens and turkeys have died so far, plus more than 5,500 pigs, the department writes in a new statement.
One of the largest producers of poultry in North Carolina, Sanderson Farms reports that 30 of the independently contracted farms operating within the state are currently unreachable due to flood waters—and each of these farms are home to more than 200,000 chickens. The company believes that more chickens will die as employees aren't able to reach them, escalating the company's total losses of 1.7 million chickens across 64 farms within the state.
There's no word on whether the loss of livestock in this region could impact egg prices, either. Egg prices reached an all-time high earlier this year due to an unusually harsh winter for many states, before leveling out (and, in some cases, being even cheaper than they were before).
In addition to poultry, North Carolina is the second-largest pork producer in the U.S.: There are over 33 million turkeys, 819 million chickens, and 9 million pigs living on farms in North Carolina. According to the USDA, more than 70 million of these chickens and 2 million turkeys are harvested each month in North Carolina.
More on shortages and grocery inflation in the United States:
While total numbers aren't in yet for how much livestock was lost during Hurricane Florence, it's clear that this has been one of the worst storms for the food industry. In 1999, more than 21,000 pigs and 1 million turkeys were lost during Hurricane Floyd, only a fraction of what was lost during Hurricane Florence.
Quartz reports that there are 13 manure lagoons overflowing from rainfall in North Carolina currently, with another 55 close to flooding as well. Livestock manure running into nearby bodies of water is exactly how the widespread E. coli outbreak linked to romaine lettuce began earlier this year. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have taken to warning those in North Carolina to avoid floodwaters, as they could be contaminated with raw sewage and infectious diseases.
“You basically have a toxic soup for people who live in close proximity to those lagoons,” University of Maryland's Sacoby Wilson, a professor of public health at the university, told Vice News. “All of these contaminants that are in the hog lagoons, like salmonella, giardia, and E. coli, can get into the waterways and infect people trying to get out.”
For more information on those affected by Hurricane Florence, visit the American Red Cross relief page.