The plant is one of the largest pork processing facilities in the US, representing between 4-5% of domestic pork production. It supplies nearly 130 million servings of food per week, or about 18 million servings per day, and employs 3,700 people, with more than 550 independent family farmers supplying the plant. Earlier this month, the business announced plans to close the site for three days.
Some activity will occur at the plant on Tuesday (14 April) to process product in inventory before it closes. Smithfield Foods said it 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.
Smithfield Foods president and chief executive officer Kenneth M. Sullivan warned of the knock-on effect the closure would have on the country’s meat supply.
“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,” he said.
“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,” added Sullivan.
Tyson Foods recently reported that all of its processing facilities have seen some impact of coronavirus, while Maple Leaf Foods has temporarily suspended operations at its Brampton Poultry plant (near Toronto) after three employees tested positive for COVID-19 and Cargill Protein closed its Hazelton, PA, plant last Tuesday, saying it will reopen “as soon as it is safe to do so.”