The coronavirus pandemic has put pressure on industries worldwide. The meat-packing industry has been particularly hard hit, with several reported COVID-19 outbreaks among employees at plants in the U.S. Despite these issues, one Denmark meat plant has been thriving. Its reliance on robots, rather than human employees, has allowed it to continue production almost as normal.
The United States’ meat supply is noticeably low and could falter even more as summer gets underway. Meat plants owned by companies like Tyson Food have been struggling to meet demand. The conditions in meat plants make precautionary measures like social distancing difficult, and employees often spend long stretches of time in close contact. This has led to outbreaks among employees. Despite enhanced cleanliness and protective measures, more than 7,000 Tyson employees had tested positive for COVID-19 by the end of May.
One of the largest slaughterhouses in the world, however, is still thriving. That’s because the majority of its workload is undertaken by robots, rather than humans. This has allowed for the plant to continue its typical output without any shutdowns. Of the 8,000 employees at Danish Crown’s facility, fewer than 10 have tested positive for COVID-19. While there are likely other contributing factors to this success—like Denmark’s quick and strict reaction to the pandemic—this example is still notable.
The coronavirus has introduced a new reality, one that isn’t just going to disappear. Slaughterhouses in the U.S. and around the world could look to Denmark as an example of using robots to make social distancing easier and to make their employees safer. Robots also provide far fewer potential hygiene issues and cannot track foreign contaminants into the workplace. Unfortunately, a shift to more robots in plants would almost certainly mean layoffs of regular employees.
In the meantime, Americans are likely to see a reduction in the amount of available meat products. Until more robots are introduced or other safety protocols can effectively make workers safer from the coronavirus, employees will be forced to continually put themselves at risk.