Several meat processing facilities in the US have been forced to close due to Covid-19 © Robert Nickelsberg/Getty Images
Several meat processing facilities in the US have been forced to close due to Covid-19 © Robert Nickelsberg/Getty Images

US ‘perilously close’ to meat shortage

15 April 2020

Meat plants in the US are being forced to close amid the coronavirus outbreak, which could have disastrous consequences for the sector’s supply chain.

US firm Smithfield Foods has announced it is closing its pork processing facility in South Dakota until further notice due to the impact of Covid-19. 

Kenneth Sullivan, Smithfield’s CEO, said the closure of the facility was among a growing number of protein plants that have been forced to shut pushing the US “perilously close to the edge in terms of meat supply”.

“The virus is afflicting communities everywhere. The agriculture and food sectors have not been immune...We have continued to run our facilities for one reason: to sustain our nation’s food supply during this pandemic.”

“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.”

Produce in Smithfield’s inventory will be processed before the plant shuts down and its employees will be compensated for the next two weeks.

The plant in Sioux Falls employed over 3,700 people and supplied nearly 130m food servings per week.

Tyson Foods, the world’s second-largest processor of chicken, beef and pork, also said it was suspending operations at its pork plant in Columbus Junction, Iowa, after more than two dozen cases of Covid-19 were identified among workers. 

The company said its livestock supply would be diverted to its other pork plants in the region. The firm added its meat and poultry plants were experiencing varying levels of impact on production, due to worker absenteeism, and the implementation of extra worker safety precautions.

Noel White, CEO at Tyson Foods, said the firm was “working hard” to protect its employees by stepping up deep cleaning at facilities, implementing social distancing and securing a supply of protective face equipment for its workers. 

Cargill has also closed a meat plant in Hazleton, Pennsylvania until further notice, according to a report from Reuters. The facility produces ground beef, steaks, beef roasts and pork products for retail customers. The company said it wanted to minimise risk to employees and the wider community.

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