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US 'perilously close to the edge' of meat shortages after Smithfield plant closure

14th Apr 2020 / By Alistair Driver

Smithfield Foods, the world’s biggest pork processor, is temporarily shutting one of its main plants due to coronavirus, prompting warnings the US is moving ‘perilously close to the edge' in terms of its meat supply. 

Smithfield chief executive Ken SullivanSmithfield announced the closure of its Sioux Falls plant, in South Dakota on Sunday, after more than 200 employees were affected by the disease. The facility is one of the US's largest pork processing facilities, representing 4% to 5% of the country's pork production. 

Other major U.S. meat and poultry processors, including Tyson Foods Inc, Cargill Inc and JBS USA have already suspended operations in plants in other states.

South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem said 238 employees out of approximately 3,700 workers at the plant had active cases of coronavirus, accounting for 55% of the state’s total. He and the mayor of Sioux Falls had recommended the company shut the plant for at least two weeks.

Deaths have been reported for employees at meat facilities owned by JBS and Tyson Foods, Time reported. Workers have, staged walk-outs to protest working conditions, it added highlighting the difficulties with social distancing guidance in meat plants, where work stations on processing lines can be close together.

Smithfield chief Executive Ken Sullivan (pictured) said: “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,” 

“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, first and foremost our nation’s livestock farmers.

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

Smithfield said it wouls resume operations in Sioux Falls after further direction from local, state and federal officials. The company said it would pay employees for the next two weeks. 

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