In a significant development, the U.S. Department of Agriculture stated, it will be funding a $1 million research project to identify how COVID-19 could potentially enter the nation’s beef supply chain, starting from cattle in farms to packages of meat inside consumer’s refrigerator.
The project, set to begin in October 2020, aims to mitigate the risk of exposure for consumers as well as those who work in the meat industry, reads a USDA document describing the research effort, which is led by Texas A&M University.
The research grant is part of a wider effort by the USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), which has recently awarded nearly $13 million across 17 projects studying the impact of COVID-19 on livestock, the American agricultural sector, food processing, and food safety, said a spokesperson for the agency.
USDA’s Small Business Innovation Research Program has also awarded grants worth $1.3 million across 14 projects.
Although currently there is no evidence that COVID-19 spreads through food or food packaging, “that really doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t study this, just to make sure that we understand how the virus behaves throughout the distribution system,” said former NIFA Director J. Scott Angle.
The development comes at a time when China, the world’s biggest meat importer, has stopped the import of food from companies if their products or packaging tests positive for the Wuhan Coronavirus.
Researchers will examine the impact the Wuhan Coronavirus has on different stages of meat processing and packaging, in order to determine its ability to survive on meat and packaging material during transportation and in retail areas, said Sapna Chitlapilly Dass, a Texas A&M meat science research assistant professor who leads the project; she also works with the USDA and in the University of Pennsylvania.