SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) — Virginia-based Smithfield Foods is closing its pork processing plant in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, until further notice, after dozens of employees tested positive for the coronavirus.
The plant is one of the largest pork processing facilities in the U.S., representing four to five percent of the nation’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.
The plant’s closure was announced a day after South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem and Sioux Falls Mayor Paul TenHaken wrote to Smithfield and urged the company to suspend operations for 14 days.
As of Sunday, 293 people who work at the plant have been diagnosed with COVID-19, and the company announced an indefinite closure.
CEO Kenneth Sullivan says closing the facility, and other closures in the industry, could have severe repercussions in the meat supply chain.
“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,” said Sullivan. “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.”
In preparation for a full shutdown, Smithfield says some activity will occur at the plant on Tuesday to process product in inventory, consisting of millions of servings of protein.
Smithfield will resume operations in Sioux Falls once further direction is received from local, state and federal officials.
In the meantime, the company says it will continue to compensate its employees for the next two weeks and hopes to keep them from joining the ranks of the tens of millions of unemployed Americans across the country.
Citing the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Smithfield said there’s no evidence of food or food packaging being associated with the transmission of COVID-19.
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