OMAHA, Neb. — Smithfield Foods, the world's largest pork producer, has shut down its Sioux Falls, South Dakota plant due to hundreds of positive Coronavirus cases. Food experts say closing a plant of this size will have repercussions across the entire country's meat supply.
"Smithfield is probably the largest pork processor in the United States so anytime that there's a hiccup within the system... it will have an affect on the overall meat supply," Nebraska Pork Producers Association executive director Al Juhnke said.
Now local farmers that worked with that plant and sent animals there, will have to find new plants or companies to work with. However, doing that as restaurants remain closed and COVID-19 escalates will be difficult.
"There is some possibility that some of this meat supply will be shifted around but none of that is easy," Juhnke said.
Many farmers may get backed up.
"So as we back up that system, farmers end up having to feed the pigs longer which costs them money, or worse... they're just not able to keep that flow going and we don't want to see that," Juhnke said.
America's food supply system is connected. If more and more plants shut down, people will see the effects.
"It's going to be noticeable when you take these super packing plants out of the mix. I think there's going to be a pork shortage at some point and possibly beef if the same thing happens to the beef plants," Nebraksa Association of Meat Processors president Jesse Smith said.
The plant was closed after nearly 300 employees tested positive and pressure mounted from government officials to shut it down indefinitely.
In a statement Smithfield Foods president Kenneth Sullivan said, "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."
The Omaha Smithfield plant is unaffected at this time, and the company has announced new measures to protect staff and help prevent spread within these plants.
On Monday Smithfield also announced it will be donating over 10 million pounds of protein to food banks nationwide.