US Meatpackers Back Operating at Over 95 Percent of 2019 Capacity

Ag Secretary praises Trump's 'decisive action' on meat plants
June 11, 2020 Updated: June 11, 2020

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue announced in a statement Tuesday that despite plant closures during the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus crisis, critical meat-processing and packaging infrastructure across the United States is back operating at over 95 percent of 2019 levels.

President Donald Trump had issued an executive order on April 28 that declared meat and poultry plants to be “critical infrastructure,” and required the Agriculture Secretary to allocate the resources necessary “to ensure the continued supply of meat and poultry” to the American people.

The order stated that “It is important that processors of beef, pork, and poultry (‘meat and poultry’) in the food supply chain continue operating and fulfilling orders to ensure a continued supply of protein for Americans.”

“President Trump took decisive action to ensure America’s meatpacking facilities reopen in a safe way to ensure America’s producers and ranchers will be able to bring their product to market,” said Perdue in a statement. “I want to thank the patriotic and heroic meatpacking facility workers, the companies, and the local authorities for quickly getting their operations back up and running, and for providing a great meat selection once again to the millions of Americans who depend on them for food.”

CCP Virus Halted Production

Pork processing giant Smithfield Foods reported on April 15 that due to employees becoming infected with the CCP virus, it would have to suspend operations at a number of plants.

Epoch Times Photo
A package of Smithfield Foods breakfast sausage sits in a shopping cart outside of a local grocery store in Des Moines, Iowa on April 14, 2020. (Charlie Neibergall/AP)

Smithfield, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Chinese company WH Group, first closed down a hog slaughterhouse in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, after dozens of workers were testing positive for the virus each day. Later, the company said it would be 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, was also closed.

“The closure of our Martin City plant is part of the domino effect underway in our industry,” said Kenneth M. Sullivan, Smithfield president and CEO, in the statement. “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. This is why our government has named food and agriculture critical infrastructure sectors and called on us to maintain operations and normal work schedules. For the security of our nation, I cannot understate how critical it is for our industry to continue to operate unabated,” he said.

Production Returns

USDA statistics show that production levels in the cattle, pork, and poultry processing industries have almost returned to 2019 levels. According to the USDA, “Beef facilities are operating at 98 percent, pork facilities are operating at 95 percent, and poultry facilities are operating at 98 percent of their capacity compared to the same time last year.”