Smithfield to Close More Pork Plants Amid Infection Fears

By Tom Ozimek
Tom Ozimek
Tom Ozimek
Tom Ozimek is a senior reporter for The Epoch Times. He has a broad background in journalism, deposit insurance, marketing and communications, and adult education.
April 16, 2020Updated: April 17, 2020

Smithfield Foods, the world’s largest pork processor, announced on April 15 that it would close two U.S. plants that process bacon and ham over COVID-19 infection concerns.

It comes after Smithfield, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Chinese company WH Group, closed down a hog slaughterhouse in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, after dozens of workers daily were testing positive for the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus, commonly known as novel coronavirus.

The pork giant is shuttering a plant that processes bacon and sausage in Cudahy, Wisconsin, for two weeks, according to an April 15 statement. A facility in Martin City, Missouri, that processes spiral and smoked hams will also close.

A small number of employees at the Wisconsin and Missouri facilities have tested positive for the virus, according to Smithfield. Both plants are located near areas where “community spread of COVID-19 has been prevalent,” the company said.

Epoch Times Photo
A road sign directs traffic to the Smithfield Foods pork processing facilities in Smithfield, Va., on Oct. 17, 2019. (Tom Polansek/Reuters)

The latest shutdowns show the domino effect that can occur when the closure of a major slaughterhouse affects the supply of raw materials for the next stage of processing.

“It highlights the interdependence and interconnectivity of our food supply chain. Our country is blessed with abundant livestock supplies, but our processing facilities are the bottleneck of our food chain. Without plants like Sioux Falls running, other further processing facilities like Martin City cannot function,” said Smithfield CEO Kenneth Sullivan in a statement.

A recent Epoch Times report, based on interviews with three employees who spoke on condition of anonymity, found that the Sioux Falls plant was visited by representatives from its Chinese Communist Party-tied parent company one month before the first COVID-19 case was confirmed at the facility.

In total, more than 200 employees became infected with the virus at the Sioux slaughterhouse, which produces between 4 and 5 percent of the nation’s pork.

“We are doing everything in our power to help protect our team members from COVID-19 in the workplace,” Sullivan said, adding that the company follows CDC guidance in its “stringent and detailed processes and protocols.”

“We are also being explicit with employees: ‘Do not report to work if you are sick or exhibiting COVID-19 symptoms. You will be paid,’” Sullivan said in a statement.

Food supply chains have seen disruption amid the outbreak. Demand for meat at grocery stores has spiked as more people stay home under advisories or lockdowns, while food-service industry demand, which includes restaurants and airlines, has evaporated amid business closures.

As farmers struggle to adapt, this has led to conflicting scenes of empty store shelves, while elsewhere food is being thrown away or milk poured down drains.

Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue told Fox News on April 15 that dairy farmers dumping milk was due to challenges adapting processes as producers pivot to retail, away from the food-service industry, which has been hit hard by the lockdown measures.

“We worked as expeditiously as we could to get milk where it’s needed, obviously in our retail stores, so that’s what’s happening when you see milk being dumped,” Perdue told Fox. “It’s the processors not able to convert their lines into consumer-type packaging.”

A number of industry analysts, in remarks to NPR, have said there’s no shortage in meat supply in the United States.

“I would say that there’s still a lot of meat on the market,” said Christine McCracken, senior director for animal protein at RaboResearch. “Quite a bit of meat, actually; pork, chicken, and beef.”