A Dire Warning as Meat Plants Start to Close

Workers are getting sick, and supply chain could be disrupted
By Evann Gastaldo,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 13, 2020 2:19 AM CDT
Updated Apr 13, 2020 6:43 AM CDT
As Employees Get Sick, Meat Plants Are Closing
The Smithfield pork processing plant in Sioux Falls, SD, is seen Wednesday, April 8, 2020, where health officials reported more than 80 employees have confirmed cases of the coronavirus   (AP Photo/Stephen Groves)

Employees at meat processing plants are getting the new coronavirus—and some of the facilities are shutting down, including one of the country's biggest pork processing facilities. Bloomberg reports there's been a "spike" in coronavirus infections at such plants, with hundreds of new cases last week. Plants are starting to slow operations or reduce output, and one economist explains that's "one of the huge reasons for the decline in futures prices," down about 40% in recent months. As the pork plant in Sioux Falls, SD, announced Sunday it was closing until further notice, the CEO of Smithfield, which runs the facility, had a dire warning for what this could mean.

  • The warning: "It is impossible to keep our grocery stores stocked if our plants are not running. These facility closures will also have severe, perhaps disastrous, repercussions for many in the supply chain," Kenneth Sullivan said, per CNN. "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."

  • More on the South Dakota cases: As of Saturday, when there were 430 active coronavirus cases in the state, Smithfield employees accounted for 240 of those. The plant, which employs 3,700, produces 4% to 5% of the country's pork. South Dakota's governor recommended a shutdown of at least two weeks, and employees will be paid for the next two weeks. (Its current inventory will be processed Tuesday with some employees on site.)
  • Colorado: There are as many as 50 cases at a Colorado JBS USA beef facility; AgWeb reports the Greeley plant will close through Tuesday so it can be cleaned and sanitized.
  • Pennsylvania: A Cargill meat packaging facility in Pennsylvania where at least 164 cases have been reported so far closed Tuesday with no indication of when it might reopen, the Citizens' Voice reports. "The number that is even scarier is the many more who are sick and waiting for their test results," says the union president, per the Star Tribune. He estimated as many as 200 others were out sick when the plant closed. Other plants in Pennsylvania have also gone idle, including a JBS USA beef plant, per NPR.
  • Iowa: After more than two dozen confirmed cases among employees of a Tyson Foods pork processing plant in Columbus Junction, Iowa, the facility suspended operations last week without saying when they might resume, the Des Moines Register reports. A National Beef Packing plant in the state also suspended slaughter operations so it could move up a cleaning that was originally scheduled for later this month, Reuters reports.
  • Deaths: Two of the Colorado employees have died, as well as one employee at another JBS facility and two workers from a Georgia Tyson Foods plant. "You cannot make sacrifices like this with people’s lives," a Colorado union president says. "People can live without beef."
  • Risky environment: As Bloomberg explains, workers in plants like these are often quite close together, making social distancing a challenge.
  • Could this idea help? Iowa's governor says quick tests should be made available for meat packing workers. Rapid testing machines at meat packing plants could produce results within minutes, Radio Iowa reports.
(More coronavirus stories.)

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