Smithfield Foods announced that it will close its Sioux Falls, SD facility until further notice after the governor and the mayor recommended the company shut the plant due to the number of coronavirus cases among the plant employees. The company’s CEO, Kenneth M. Sullivan, warned this is pushing the country perilously close to the edge in terms of meat supply.
According to Smithfield, the 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.
South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem and the mayor of Sioux Falls, Paul TenHaken, urged the company to close the plant for two weeks. Health officials said that 293 of the 730 people who have been diagnosed with COVID-19 in South Dakota work at 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,” said Kenneth M. Sullivan, president, and chief executive officer, for Smithfield.
Sullivan also warned that “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.”
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 said it will resume operations in Sioux Falls once a further direction is received from local, state and federal officials. The company will continue to compensate its employees for the next two weeks.
“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 coronavirus 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,” Sullivan concluded.
According to the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA), there is no evidence of food or food packaging being associated with the transmission of coronavirus.