World's Largest Pork Producer Shutters Key US Factory After COVID-19 Outbreak, Warns Of Shortages

Operations at one of Smithfield Foods' key U.S. factories have been brought to a halt after a coronavirus outbreak among employees. Smithfield is the world's biggest pork producer.

Now, the company is warning that meat supplies are "perilously close to the edge of shortfalls," according to Bloomberg

The company is shuttering its Sioux Falls, SD plant, which accounts for 4% to 5% of U.S. production. The news comes after more than 200 cases of Covid-19 were reported among employees. 

Photo: BBG

Smithfield’s Chief Executive Officer Ken Sullivan said: “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.”

Smithfield had planned on closing their plant for 3 days, but South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem asked them to extend the closure to 14 days.

The plant has 3,700 employees who will continue to receive pay for at least two weeks during the shutdown. The plant won't re-open until Smithfield gets the nod from local, state and federal authorities. 

The news again highlights how fragile the world's supply chains are during a global pandemic, especially as worried citizens hoard food items and clean out grocery stores. There have also been bottlenecks with trucks and ports, exacerbating efforts to get food from producers to consumers.

Worker safety also remains an issue, especially after deaths have been reported at meat factories owned by JBS SA and Tyson Foods. Workers not only share workspace in many of these factories, but are also in close quarters in break rooms and locker rooms. 

The risk at these plants remains among the employees and not with the end-consumer, since Covid-19 isn't a foodborne illness. But when an employee gets sick, the plant needs to be quarantined and closed for deep cleaning, which costs valuable time, money and resources. 

Photo: BBG

Sullivan continued:

“Unfortunately, Covid-19 cases are now ubiquitous across our country. 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.”

“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 concluded.

Recall, back in late March, we wrote an article noting that the people responsible for handling the world's food supply at places like Smithfield were starting to get sick.