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Guidance and education for Ohio's meat producers

When the COVID-19 outbreak hit Ohio, Lyda Garcia’s phone started to ring. Many of her contacts from Ohio’s meat-processing industry wanted to know what to do.

“I would share ideas, and I would challenge them to start thinking ahead of the curve, to be proactive,” said Garcia, assistant professor of meat science and meat extension specialist in fresh meat processing in the College of Food, Agricultural and Environmental Services (CFAES).

“We need to start thinking about future actions, corrective actions. That’s been my role, guiding them and helping them think outside the box because COVID-19 has presented so many challenges for so many.”

Garcia has helped livestock farmers and those in the meat processing industry address those steep challenges. Due to the combination of restaurants, hotels and schools being shut down, and the slow down or even shutdown of meat processors, the meat supply was and will continue to be impacted.

That has left livestock farmers with fewer outlets for their animals and plummeting prices for what they could sell. Even as Ohio and other states began to open, the concern continues that employees of meat processing plants may test positive for the coronavirus.

“All it takes is one employee to contract COVID-19 and there goes the operation for 14 days, which is hurtful because then every person that one employee has come in contact with is now impacted. Then results in a group of employees not able to work which leads to the shutdown, or slowing down of an operation” Garcia said.

“Considering there are still so many unknowns, the only thing I can do is serve to help (meat processors) be proactive and problem solve when necessary in attempt to help them remain operational and employees stay safe.”

To do that, Garcia has worked to create and maintain safe-operating procedures. She’s also working to provide and improve personal protective equipment (PPE) to meat processors through work with three CFAES colleagues: Joy Rumble, Mary Rodriguez and Judit Puskas. Puskas is working with the Mayo Clinic to re-design masks, as PPE’s in attempt to make them more comfortable for employees to wear, but still be effective in protecting the employee.

While much of Garcia’s efforts have been as a meat extension specialist, she’s also played critical roles on tasks forces and in helping to educate the public on various topics of meat processing during this time.

She writes articles to give consumers information on the meat industry and promote understanding of meat safety and shortages.

“Will there be a reduced amount? Possibly. Will it last a long time? No,” she said. “But if consumers are seeing shortages, I encourage them to look at local meat processors.”

Raised by a public schoolteacher (mother) and a Texas cowboy (father) in south Texas, Garcia combined the two worlds and strives to educate the masses.

“My role is to educate,” she said. “I want to serve and advocate for higher education and agriculture using my expertise, that’s what drives me.”

Garcia also shares her expertise on task forces with the state of Ohio and CFAES. She currently serves on a subcommittee task force as a member with the Ohio Department of Agriculture, providing knowledge and services to help on topics related to meat processors. In CFAES, she serves on the Lean on Your Land Grant  task force, developed by CFAES Dean Cathann Kress to determine how CFAES’ agricultural experts can assist in issues relating to COVID-19.

“My college and colleagues have done a great job stepping up to the plate during this time,” Garcia said. “I have watched our college come together, as a team, to serve the state of Ohio. It starts with great leadership followed by great colleagues who understand the meaning of teamwork, which makes it easier.”

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