Smithfield Foods, the world’s biggest pork processor stated, it will shutdown a U.S. plant indefinitely following a hike in the number of coronavirus cases among employees. It also warned that the country is moving “perilously close to the edge” in supplies for grocers.
Shutdowns at slaughterhouses are disrupting the flow of goods across the U.S. food supply chain, thus slashing the availability of meat at retail stores and leaving farmers without outlets for their livestock.
Initially Smithfield had said it would idle the plant temporarily for cleaning. It has now extended the closure of its Sioux Falls, South Dakota, plant. The facility processes 4% to 5% of U.S. pork production, said the company.
On Sunday, South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem said, 238 Smithfield employees had got the COVID-19 disease, accounting for 55% of the state’s total. Noem and the Sioux Falls’ mayor have recommended that the company shutdown the plant which employs nearly 3,700 workers, for at least two weeks.
“It is impossible to keep our grocery stores stocked if our plants are not running,” said Smithfield Chief Executive Ken Sullivan in a statement. “These facility closures will also have severe, perhaps disastrous, repercussions for many in the supply chain, first and foremost our nation’s livestock farmers.”
In a statement Smithfield said, it will resume operations in Sioux Falls following further direction from the local, state and federal authorities.
The company will continue to pay employees for the next two weeks, said Smithfield.
“We have a stark choice as a nation: we are either going to produce food or not, even in the face of COVID-19,” said Sullivan.
Other major U.S. meat and poultry processors, including Cargill Inc, Tyson Foods Inc and JBS USA already have idled plants in other states.