Tyson turns to robot butchers, spurred by coronavirus outbreaks
- Tyson Foods relies on about 122,000 employees to churn out about 1 in every 5 pounds of chicken, beef and pork produced in the U.S.
- Tyson’s Manufacturing Automation Center was opened in August of 2019 and is working to move from human meat cutters to robotic butchers.
- Over the past three years, Tyson has invested about $500 million in technology and automation.
- An issue with robotic meat cutters is that they aren’t able to match humans’ ability to disassemble animal carcasses that subtly differ in size and shape.
- Processing plant executives say that the biggest push to increase automation within packing plants stems from the decreased availability of labor in the U.S.
- Meatpacking companies have tested automated cutting systems in recent years, with mixed results. Some of these projects were abandoned because of too much high-value meat being wasted.
- According to union official Mark Lauritsen, boosting automation at U.S. meatpacking plants needs to be done thoughtfully so job losses won’t devastate the communities they sustain.
Bill would increase processor capacity
- Small meat processors that have been impacted by the pandemic will be receiving more help through Requiring Assistance to Meat Processors for Upgrading Plants Act, also known as the RAMP-UP Act.
- This bill will help meat processors make facility upgrades and move to federal inspection to sell across state lines.
- As it stands today, state inspected and custom exempt processors are not able to sell meat across state lines and the process to become federally inspected can be quite costly.
- The RAMP-UP Act would allow the secretary of agriculture to make grants to meat and poultry processing facilities for improvements to help become a federally inspected establishment.
- Under this bill, grants could not exceed $100,000 and recipients must repay the amount in full if they do not become a federally inspected plant within 36 months.
- The RAMP-UP Act would provide $80 million in direct funding to remain available until expended through fiscal year 2023. The bill will also authorize $20 million in discretionary funding should more funds be needed.
Boxed beef prices and red meat production
- Choice boxed beef: $204.50 (+0.91)
- Select boxed beef: $194.29 (-0.54)