Pork processing giant shuts for COVID-19, warns of meat supply shortfall

One of the largest pork producers in the U.S. shuttered a plant indefinitely after hundreds of workers tested positive for COVID-19.

On April 12, Smithfield Foods, Inc. announced that the Sioux Falls, South Dakota, plant was closed until further notice due to a Coronavirus outbreak among workers. Smithfield Foods said that this plant normally delivers four to five percent of U.S. pork production.

More than 200 COVID-19 cases have been traced to the plant.

In a written statement, Kenneth M. Sullivan, president and chief executive officer for Smithfield, warns that the COVID-19 crisis could be pushing the U.S. toward a meat shortage.

Sullivan wrote:

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. These farmers have nowhere to send their animals.

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. 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. 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 Foods says that they’ll resume operations at the Sioux Falls plant after they’ve received guidance to do so from federal and state officials. They’ve pledged to continue to pay their 3,700 workers for the next two weeks.

Smithfield Foods is not the only U.S. meat processing plant to halt operations due to the pandemic. Last week, Tyson Foods stopped operations at their Columbus Junction, Iowa, pork plant after more than 2 dozen workers tested positive for COVID-19. And National Beef in Tama, Iowa, also announced that they would halt meat processing operations until April 20 after several workers contracted the virus. The Cargill Meat Solutions facility in Hazleton, Pennsylvania, also announced a temporary closure last week after 164 workers tested positive for Coronavirus.