|Staff Reporter |||Apr 13, 2020 07:19 PM EDT|
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US meat processing firm Smithfield Foods will be shutting down its facility in South Dakota. The company announced on Sunday that the surge in new coronavirus cases among its workers has forced it to shut down the production facility.
The company's plant in Sioux Falls, South Dakota is currently the largest pork processing facility in the world. With its closure, the country's pork industry is expecting a possible shortage in the coming weeks. Smithfield Foods' facility produces an estimated 4 percent to 5 percent of the country's pork supply.
The ongoing coronavirus pandemic that has ravaged the United States has caused dozens of slaughterhouses to shut down in recent weeks. The closures have heavily disrupted the country's food supply chains, affecting the availability of the meat at retail stores.
Smithfield Foods chief executive officer, Ken Sullivan, mentioned in a statement on Sunday that the closure of its facility and others like it could have "severe" and "disastrous" repercussions for many in the supply chain. He added that farmers will likely be the heaviest hit by the decision.
Sullivan warned that it will be impossible for it to keep grocery stores fully stocked if its facilities are not running. Smithfield Foods' plants had been running since the start of the pandemic, supply US consumers with fresh meats amid the lockdowns and stay-at-home orders. The executive added that the company and policymakers will have to make a difficult choice in the coming weeks to either stop production or continue at the risk of further infections.
As of Saturday, around 238 employees working at Smithfield Foods have been confirmed to be infected with the virus. The number of confirmed cases at the company accounts for about 55 percent of the total confirmed cases in South Dakota.
Over the past two weeks, officials such as the mayor of Sioux Falls and the governor of South Dakota have pushed to have the company's plant shut down. Because the facility produces so much of the nation's supply, the decision to shut down the facility was not an easy one to make.
Smithfield Foods had stated that it will be working with local, state, and federal officials to determine when it will resume operations in South Dakota. In the meantime, the company stated that it will continue to pay its employees for the next two weeks. Smithfield Foods currently has more than 3,700 workers at its plant in Sioux Falls.
Apart from Smithfield Foods, other meat-processing companies have also started to shut down plants after confirmed cases were reported amongst their employees. Companies such as Tyson foods, JBA USA, and Cargill Inc have already shut down some of their meat and poultry processing plants.
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