Some good news: Livestock and poultry appear to be safe from COVID-19

AMES, Iowa – The virus causing the COVID-19 outbreak doesn’t appear to cause noticeable infections in livestock and poultry, an Iowa State University veterinarian said.

That’s good news for U.S. livestock producers, meatpackers and consumers who could use a little stability as the outbreak generates waves of uncertainty that have halted many everyday activities. 

But the virus could disrupt U.S. food supply by causing workforce shortages for the meatpacking industry, said Jim Roth, director of the Center for Food Security and Public Health at Iowa State University.

Roth, Clarence Hartley Covault Distinguished Professor of Veterinary Microbiology and Preventive Medicine, said the virus most likely jumped from an animal species into humans and mutated into a virus that mostly affects people. He said no evidence has emerged that the virus causes noticeable infections in livestock or poultry.

“If livestock were getting the virus and getting sick we’d most likely know that from what’s gone on in other countries,” Roth said. “It does seem to be pretty species specific to people.”

He said ongoing research elsewhere is looking into the possibility that livestock might experience minor infections or carry the virus, but the virus is still too new to draw definitive conclusions.

Roth said the possibility of COVID-19 causing widespread infections among livestock producers or meatpacking employees from human to human transfer could disrupt supply chains. Meat packing, processing and distribution occurs around the clock, and fresh meat has a limited shelf life. If a significant portion of meatpacking employees has to stay home because of COVID-19, the workforce shortage could upend operations at plants, Roth said.

Roth reiterated that all available evidence suggests meat, milk and eggs remain safe to eat.