Top Pork Producer Shuts Major Plant After Coronavirus Sickens Workers

Smithfield Foods' CEO warned of potential meat shortages as he agreed to indefinitely close a giant South Dakota pork processing facility.

Smithfield, the world’s biggest pork producer, has indefinitely shuttered its sprawling pork processing facility in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, after more than 230 workers tested positive for the coronavirus.

South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem said the sickened plant employees accounted for more than half of the active coronavirus cases in the state, CNN reported. Noem said she urged Smithfield to suspend operations at the facility for at least two weeks — a recommendation the company agreed to.

Smithfield CEO Kenneth Sullivan warned the closure of the Sioux Falls plant — which employs about 3,700 people and accounts for 4% to 5% of U.S. pork production — combined with the shutdown of other U.S. meat processing facilities ― “is pushing our country perilously close to the edge” of a meat shortfall.

“It is impossible to keep our grocery stores stocked if our plants are not running,” Sullivan said in a statement. “These facility closures will also have severe, perhaps disastrous, repercussions for many in the supply chain.”

Major meat producers including JBS S.A., Cargill, Empire Kosher Poultry and Tyson Foods have also closed plants in recent weeks over coronavirus concerns.

As The Wall Street Journal noted, meat processing facilities have emerged as hot spots for the disease. Tyson and JBS have reported deaths among sickened workers at their plants.

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