Major Pork Processing Facility Closes, CEO Warns About Meat Supply

By R.J. Johnson - @rickerthewriter

April 13, 2020

Smithfield Foods, one of the largest pork processors in the United States will close one of its plants until further notice amid a rash of COVID-19 illnesses among its employees.

"The closure of this facility, combined with a growing list of other protein plants that have shuttered across our industry, is pushing our country perilously close to the edge in terms of our meat supply," the meat processor's chief executive, Kenneth Sullivan, said in a statement Sunday.

The plant in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, is responsible for 4% to 5% of U.S. pork production, the company states.

"It is impossible to keep our grocery stores stocked if our plants are not running," he said. "These facility closures will also have severe, perhaps disastrous, repercussions for many in the supply chain."

About 240 employees at the plant have become ill - accounting for more than half of the confirmed cases in the state, South Dakota governor Kristi Noem said on Saturday.

“Unfortunately, COVID-19 cases are now ubiquitous across our country. The virus is afflicting communities everywhere. The agriculture and food sectors have not been immune. Numerous plants across the country have COVID-19 positive employees," Sullivan added. "We have continued to run our facilities for one reason: to sustain our nation’s food supply during this pandemic. We believe it is our obligation to help feed the country, now more than ever."

Several other meat processors in the nation, including in Iowa and Pennsylvania have also been forced to shutter due to sick employees.

Smithfield says some employees will remain to conduct inventory at the plant as it prepares to fully shut down. Employees will be compensated while the plant is shut down for the next two weeks. Operations will resume at the plant after further direction from local, state and federal officials.

"We have a stark choice as a nation: we are either going to produce food or not, even in the face of COVID-19," Sullivan concluded.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration says there is no evidence associated with COVID-19 being transmitted through food or food packaging.

To keep up to date on the latest news about the coronavirus and to understand what you need to stay safe and healthy, check out the Coronavirus: Fact vs Fiction podcast from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta.

Photo: Getty Images

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