Smithfield Foods’ pork processing plant in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, will be closed until further notice.
The decision to halt operations there came one day after South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem announced in a news conference that 240 people infected with COVID-19 in the state were Smithfield employees. At the time, there were about 430 active cases in South Dakota.
The Smithfield plant is one of the largest pork processing facilities in the U.S., representing four to five percent of U.S. pork production. It supplies nearly 130 million servings of food per week, or about 18 million servings per day, and employs 3,700 people. More than 550 independent family farmers supply the plant.
“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. These farmers have nowhere to send their animals,” Kenneth M. Sullivan, Smithfield president and chief executive officer, said in a press release.
“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. Numerous plants across the country have COVID-19 positive employees. We have continued to run our facilities for one reason: to sustain our nation’s food supply during this pandemic. We believe it is our obligation to help feed the country, now more than ever. We have a stark choice as a nation: we are either going to produce food or not, even in the face of COVID-19,” he concluded.
In preparation for a full shutdown, some activity will occur at the plant on Tuesday to process product in inventory, consisting of millions of servings of protein. Smithfield will resume operations in Sioux Falls once further direction is received from local, state and federal officials. The company will continue to compensate its employees for the next two weeks and hopes to keep them from joining the ranks of the tens of millions of unemployed Americans across the country.
According to the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA), there is no evidence of food or food packaging being associated with the transmission of COVID-19. More information on Smithfield’s COVID-19 response can be found online.
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