Health

Background

Covid-19: Smithfield shuts US pork plant indefinitely

The coronavirus outbreak leads to major disruptions of the pork supply chain in Northern America. Smithfield, the largest procxessor of the United States, has closed a plant indefinitely due to a Covid-19 outbreak.

This weekend, Smithfield Foods stated it would shut its plant in Sioux Falls, SD, indefinitely due to coronavirus cases among employees. The state governor, Kristi Noem, said that in total 238 Smithfield employees had contracted Covid-19, accounting for 55% of the state’s total. Noem and the mayor of Sioux Falls recommended the company shut the plant, which has about 3,700 workers, for at least 2 weeks.

Pork for sale in a supermarket. It remains to be seen if pork will continue to be plentiful in US retail shops due to Covid-19. - Photo: Shutterstock
Pork for sale in a supermarket. It remains to be seen if pork will continue to be plentiful in US retail shops due to Covid-19. - Photo: Shutterstock

Initially, the company indicated that the plant would be idle temporarily for cleaning. The facility is one of the US’ largest pork processing facilities, representing 4-5% of US pork production, according to the company.

US perilously close to the edge of meat supply

In the statement, Smithfield, owned by China’s WH Group, also warned that the country was moving ‘perilously close to the edge’ in terms of meat supply. Smithfield president and CEO Kenneth M. Sullivan said in a statement: “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.”

Covid-19 Up-date
What impact is the pandemic having on the global pig sector and how are they dealing with it.

Smithfield indicated to have instituted a series of “stringent and detailed protocols that follow the strict guidance of the CDC to effectively manage any potential Covid-19 cases in our operations.” Smithfield said it will resume operations “once further direction is received from local, state and federal officials”. The company will pay employees for the next 2 weeks, according to the statement.

Other pork plants closing due to Covid-19

The Smithfield plant is not the only pork plant to be affected by Covid-19 in North America. Tyson Foods temporarily closed its slaughterhouse in Columbus Junction, IA for the same reason. The plant was shut in early April after at least 24 cases of Covid-19 had been found amongst the plant’s staff. An Olymel pork plant in Yamachiche, QC, Canada shut on March 29 for 2 weeks after 9 workers tested positive for the coronavirus. The factory resumed business on Tuesday, April 14. News agency Reuters reported that Cargill closed a plant in Hazleton, PA, that produces meat for US grocery stores, which includes pork products as well. In addition, various beef and poultry plants were also shut down throughout the continent.