US Meat Supply in Jeopardy? Smithfield, Tyson, PerdueFarms Fights to Stay Open

By Faye Higbee

US Meat Conglomerates are struggling amid the COVID-19 pandemic as employees test positive for the virus. Smithfield’s pork processing plant in Sioux Falls, South Dakota closed temporarily after 293 employees tested positive for the coronavirus. A Tyson beef plant in Wallula, Washington had 30 employees test positive with several others listed as “probable” due to their contact with those who have the virus. A Tyson plant in Iowa also had to temporarily close. The processors are aware of the supply chain issue and are coordinating their efforts with the government.

The problem with meat processing facilities is the closeness of employees working together. “Social distancing” is difficult, if not impossible.

The Smithfield plant employs about 3,700 people, and is one of the largest pork processing plants in the USA. It produces 130 million servings of food per week, or about 18 million servings per day. The plant closed for 3 days to disinfect the facility, but then closed indefinitely. They had been staying open to protect the American meat supply.

Tyson, who before the outbreak was in talks to buy chicken producer Foster Farms, supplies packaged beef, chicken, Hillshire Farms, Jimmy Dean and Aidells sausages.

Perdue Farms, one of the nations largest meat processors, had to temporarily close one of its chicken plants in Delaware after two employees tested positive. Perdue produces beef, chicken, turkey, pork, and grain, and employs around 21,000 people. It  assured customers that a grocery store chicken shortage after panic buying was temporary, and advised that they were implementing temperature checks in all its plants and tracking who was exposed. Another Perdue plant in Georgia had an employee test positive. The company says it is diligently disinfecting its facilities to protect its workers.

“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.” Smithfield president and CEO Kenneth Sullivan

The processors know the stakes, and they will find ways to keep the supply chain moving. It will only be temporary, so don’t run out and start panic buying meat.

 

Note: Smithfield is owned by China, but only processes meat produced in the United States.

Featured photo: Tyson logo on plant sign via wkrn

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