MPR Staff (4/12/20)
Smithfield Foods announced Sunday that its massive pork processing plant in Sioux Falls, S.D., will close indefinitely amid a coronavirus outbreak.
As of Saturday, more than 230 employees had tested positive for COVID-19, out of a workforce of about 3,700 people — part of a growing coronavirus hotspot in Sioux Falls. South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem and Sioux Falls Mayor Paul TenHaken on Saturday asked the company to close down the plant for two weeks.
Smithfield announced the indefinite closure in a news release Sunday morning. The plant will process some remaining inventory on Tuesday, officials said, before fully shutting down until “further direction is received from local, state and federal officials.”
Employees at the plant will continue to be paid for two weeks.
“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,” Smithfield CEO Ken Sullivan said in a news release Sunday morning. “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.
“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.”
Smithfield said the Sioux Falls plant produces nearly 130 million servings of food each week — about 4 to 5 percent of U.S. pork production — and is supplied by more than 550 farms in the region. The company previously announced a three-day shutdown over the weekend, before announcing the indefinite closure.
Other meat processing plants have also closed temporarily because of outbreaks of the coronavirus, including a Tyson Foods facility in Columbus Junction, Iowa, where more than two dozen employees tested positive.
There has been no evidence that the coronavirus is being transmitted through food or its packaging, according to the Department of Agriculture.
TenHaken said COVID-19 infection rates are on the rise in the city of nearly 182,000 people.
“Our per capita data — we have 182.25 cases per 100,000 residents. That is more than Seattle. That’s more than Chicago. That’s concerning,” TenHaken said.
TenHaken said he has also submitted a formal request to Noem asking that she issue a shelter-in-place order for Minnehaha County, which includes Sioux Falls.
South Dakota remains one of a handful of states without such a statewide order. Noem maintains a statewide measure does not meet the needs of the largely rural state.
South Dakota Public Broadcasting and the Associated Press contributed to this report.
(Commoner Call cartoon by Mark L. Taylor, 2020. Open source and free for non-derivative use with link to www.thecommonercall.org )