Smithfield closes hog plant in the US indefinitely, warns of meat shortage during coronavirus pandemic

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Employees and family members demonstrate outside a Smithfield Foods processing plant in Sioux Falls, S.D. on April 9, 2020. The factory has had an outbreak of coronavirus, according to Governor Kristi Noem.

Stephen Groves / The Associated Press

Smithfield Foods, the world’s largest pork processor, said on Sunday it would close a US plant indefinitely due to an outbreak of coronavirus among employees and warned that the country was “dangerously close to the edge” of supplies for grocers.

Slaughterhouse closures disrupt the US food supply chain, reduce the availability of meat in retail stores, and leave farmers with no outlet for their livestock.

Smithfield extended the shutdown of its Sioux Falls, South Dakota plant after initially declaring it would be temporarily inactive for cleaning. The plant is one of the country’s largest pork processing facilities, accounting for 4% to 5% of pork production in the United States, according to the company.

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South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem said Saturday that 238 Smithfield workers had active cases of the new coronavirus, 55% of the state’s total. Noem and the mayor of Sioux Falls recommended that the company close the plant, which employs approximately 3,700 workers, for at least two weeks.

“It is impossible to keep our groceries in stock if our factories are not operating,” Smithfield general manager Ken Sullivan said on Sunday. “These closings will also have serious, possibly disastrous, consequences for many members of the supply chain, first and foremost the breeders of our country.”

Smithfield has said it will resume operations at Sioux Falls after further instructions from local, state and federal authorities. The company will pay its employees for the next two weeks, the statement said.

The company operated its factories to supply American consumers during the epidemic, said Sullivan.

“We have a brutal choice as a nation: we will produce food or not, even in the face of COVID-19,” he said.

Other large US meat and poultry processors, including Tyson Foods Inc., Cargill Inc. and JBS USA, have already idled factories in other states.

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