Smithfield Foods said Sunday that it will close a major U.S. meat processing plant due to employees becoming infected with the coronavirus.
The Sioux Falls, South Dakota, plant is responsible for roughly 5% of U.S. pork production and is expected to remain closed for at least two weeks adding tremendous stress to an already struggling supply chain.
“It is impossible to keep our grocery stores stocked if our plants are not running,” Smithfield Chief Executive Ken Sullivan said in a statement on Sunday. “These facility closures will also have severe, perhaps disastrous, repercussions for many in the supply chain, first and foremost our nation’s livestock farmers.”
“We have a stark choice as a nation: we are either going to produce food or not, even in the face of COVID-19,” Sullivan added.
293 of the plant’s 3,700 workers tested positive of coronavirus which triggered local and state authorities to ask Smithfield to shut down the plant.
“As a critical infrastructure employer for the nation’s food supply chain and a major employer in Sioux Falls, it is crucial that Smithfield have a healthy workforce to ensure the continuity of operations to feed the nation. At the same time, employees need a healthy work environment,” South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem and Sioux Falls Mayor Paul TenHaken wrote to the plant’s operators.
Smithfield, the largest pork processor in the world, joins Tyson foods, Cargill and JBS USA, who have also idled poultry and meat processing plants in Iowa and Pennsylvania.
“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,” Sullivan said.
Smithfield said that it will continue to pay its workers during the two-week shutdown.
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