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Closings, Cancellations and Delays

More Smithfield Foods plants close, COVID-19 infections on the rise

- April 16, 2020

RICHLANDTOWN, PENN.  - Smithfield Foods Inc. announced it will close two more pork-processing plants because of the coronavirus pandemic, reducing meat supplies for grocery stores and deepening challenges for the nation’s pork producers.

The top U.S. pork processor said it would close plants in Wisconsin and Missouri  this week, after announcing  the  shutdown of its Sioux Falls, S.D., plant, one of the industry’s biggest. Chinese owned Smithfield said that employees at all three plants have tested positive for the coronavirus and that the Missouri plant needed pork supplies from the South Dakota facility to operate.

Since the start of the month, beef, chicken and pork plants have closed across the country after hundreds of workers contracted the coronavirus and hundreds more stayed at home for fear of catching it. The close quarters on meat-processing lines have made some meat plants COVID-19 hot spots.

The list of temporarily shuttered facilities also includes a Tyson pork plant in Columbus Junction, Iowa, and one of the largest beef packers in the country, operated by JBS, in Greeley, Colorado.

A team from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has arrived in Sioux Falls,  to help with the Smithfield Foods coronavirus hot spot, which has become the biggest single source of cases in the United States.

But Smithfield's CEO, Kenneth Sullivan, is sounding the alarm of what these closures may mean.

"We have a stark choice as a nation: we are either going to produce food or not, even in the face of COVID-19," he wrote, warning that closing such plants "is pushing our country perilously close to the edge in terms of our meat supply."

Smithfield Foods Inc. announced April 12 that its Sioux Falls, S.D., facility will remain closed until further notice. The plant is one of the largest pork processing facilities in the U.S., representing 4-5% of U.S. pork production. It supplies nearly 130 million servings of food per week, or about 18 million servings per day. The company said in a press release that the plant’s furloughed employees will be compensated for the next two weeks following the April 15 closure

More than 550 independent family farmers supply the plant. With the Sioux Falls plant closed indefinitely, 20,000 pigs a day that were scheduled for harvest at the plant now have nowhere to go. Within two weeks, that’s almost a quarter of a million pigs.

 “These facility closures will also have severe, perhaps disastrous, repercussions for many in the supply chain, first and foremost our nation’s livestock farmers. These farmers have nowhere to send their animals,” said  Sullivan.

The pork industry is currently dealing with a glut of its product due to a collapse of demand from chain restaurants and food service companies that supply corporate cafeterias and schools.

Meanwhile, demand at grocery stores is up, but shifting products to a new destination isn't easy. Industry representatives say processors can’t immediately start shipping more supplies to grocery stores because the packaging is wrong, noting not very many consumers would by 20 pound boxes of bacon at grocery stores.

Amid reports of a lack of protective measures and equipment made available at some processing plants, consumer and worker safety groups say the Smithfield incident shows that more must be done to ensure the welfare of those working in the industry.  It’s made more difficult by the nature of meat processing that involves conveyors manned by workers standing next to one another.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has said that the country's food supply is not a source of transmission for the coronavirus, but the closures are likely to prompt more questions about food safety and how the virus can spread.

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