April 14, 2021

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RUM will investigate the impact of COVID-19 in the meat industry

A group of researchers from the College of Agricultural Sciences (CCA) of the Mayagüez Campus (RUM) of the University of Puerto Rico (UPR) will study the impact of agricultural extension training on COVID-19 in the meat supply chain in Puerto Rico.

The project titled Fighting COVID-19: Assessment of the Impact of Agricultural Extension Training on Covid19 in the Meat Supply Chain in Puerto Rico, It received a grant of $ 175 thousand from the Government of Puerto Rico and was one of the 10 proposals that were selected from the UPR.

“One of the primary goals of this effort is to provide technical assistance and non-formal education to farmers and food processors to address the health and safety issues of COVID-19 in the workforce.. In addition, we seek to increase local meat production, reducing health risks and operating costs. Likewise, this research will provide scientific data on the economic impact of COVID-19 in the meat industry of Puerto Rico ”, indicated Dr. Julio C. Hernández Correa, principal investigator of the proposal and professor of the Department of Agricultural Economics and Rural Sociology, attached to the Agricultural Experiment Station (EEA).

The co-investigators, of the only proposal chosen in the agricultural field, are Doctors Alexandra Gregory, Fernando Pérez, and María Rodríguez. Also participating are doctors Myrna Comas, Robison Rodríguez, Edly Santiago and Professor Aixa Serrano, from the College of Agricultural Sciences. Similarly, Dr. Magda Latorre, from the Department of Chemical Engineering.

“This is the first study that seeks to explore the interactions of the meat supply chain in Puerto Rico with an interdisciplinary approach. The project has five work teams: (1) social evaluation of the experience associated with COVID-19 of workers in the meat distribution chain; (2) economic valuation of the effects of COVID-19 and quarantine in agribusiness and meat sub-industries; (3) development and implementation of training on prevention and management of COVID-19 in the different links of the meat production and distribution chain; (4) evaluation of the effect of these trainings and; (5) microbiological evaluation of the effects of training ”, explained Hernández Correa.

He stressed that the island knows little about how COVID 19 has affected meat processing plants.

“I conducted a preliminary study that suggested that COVID is overrepresented in employees working in manufacturing industries, including meat processing plants. It is necessary to protect the local agricultural sector: since 90 percent of the meat on the island is imported. So a reduction in meat imports, due to the closure of meat processing plants in the United States, can generate serious problems of food insecurity, ”said the principal investigator of the novel proposal.

For his part, Dr. Jorge Haddock, the president of the UPR, highlighted the quality and importance of scientific research at a local and global level.

“In the historical context in which we find ourselves, we are very proud and hopeful with the results of this research. Its development and results will not only provide valuable information for the meat industry, so important for the economy and the food industry, at the same time it will allow to bring technical assistance and formal education to farmers, one of our objectives as the main teaching center of the island. The greatest success to Dr. Julio Hernández Correa, and his team of scientists, in this great project, “said Haddock.

For the Mayaguez campus of the UPR, this research represents the importance of the conservation of agriculture in the Puerto Rican archipelago.

“We are optimistic about the impact this research will have to mitigate the scope of the pandemic in the country’s meat sector. Without a doubt, knowing this data first-hand, in more detail and in a scientific way, will give us the ability to recommend solutions and best practices. Definitely, it is the raison d’être of our educational mission that transcends the classroom to community impact and agricultural extension. I congratulate the researchers of the College of Agricultural Sciences, the oldest academic faculty of our institution, whose scientific and educational contributions are of immense value to the College of Mayagüez, ”said Dr. Agustín Rullán Toro, rector of the RUM.

Meanwhile, for Dr. Raúl E. Macchiavelli, dean and director of the CCA, “this project shows the relevance of the interdisciplinary work that we carry out from the College of Agricultural Sciences to contribute to the knowledge and improve the quality of life of the Puerto Rican family. We will be learning how the pandemic has affected the meat industry in Puerto Rico and we will also educate workers in these industries to stay healthy. Through an excellent team of professionals we will make an important contribution to food security in the country ”.

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the world’s leading organization dedicated to fighting hunger, has warned of the risks that COVID-19 poses to the food supply chain.

Dr. Hernández Correa indicated that specifically in the United States of America, the meat industry is facing serious challenges due to this virus.

In fact, on April 28, 2020, President Trump declared meat plants as critical infrastructure for the nation’s functioning. Despite the Federal Government’s Guidelines on Social Distancing and Protective Gears being released on March 9 (OSHA 3990-03 2020), in early April major US media outlets reported the widespread spread. of COVID-19 among workers in meat processing plants. As a result, many plants closed due to their workers being infected and many of them died.

“FAO anticipated a possible food shortage due to complex network interactions involving farmers, agricultural input suppliers, processing plants, transportation and retailers. To avoid this situation, it is imperative that countries keep food supply chains running. For this reason, this research is extremely important for the island ”, he concluded.

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