Surging U.S. meat prices are underscoring the pressure packers are under to keep slaughtering plants open even as hundreds of workers get infected with the Covid-19 virus.

Wholesale American beef jumped 6 per cent  to a record of US$330.82 per 100 pounds, a 62 per cent gain from their low in February, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture data. Pork prices gained 5.7 per cent to US$88.49 per 100 pounds, the highest since November.

The gains came after news President Donald Trump was issuing an executive order demanding that slaughtering facilities remain open.

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Because of the virus, meat slaughtering is 40 per cent below where it needs to be to handle all of the animals coming to market, said Arlan Suderman, chief commodities economist at INTL FCStone in Kansas City.

“Processing plants were generally in favor of the executive order that would give them liability cover when reopening,” Suderman said. “Yet, the order still does not solve the problem of employee absenteeism.”

At least 20 workers in meat and food processing have died and 5,000 have tested positive or forced to self-quarantine due to coronavirus, according to the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union.