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Meatpacking plants are closing. How will this impact supply?

Amid outbreaks of COVID-19, many meatpacking plants are closing indefinitely

Sondra Meadows shops for pork chops in Charleston, W.Va.
Sondra Meadows shops for pork chops in Charleston, W.Va.
Jeff Gentner, Associated Press

After an announcement from South Dakota Gov, Kristi Noem revealed that more than half of the state’s 430 coronavirus cases had originated at the Sioux Falls Smithfield meatpacking plant, the plant has been ordered closed for at least the next two weeks with no definite re-opening date, the Wall Street Journal reports.

For the next two weeks, Smithfield Foods employees at the Sioux Falls plant will continue to receive pay. After that, it is unknown how the company plans to support the nearly 3,700 workers who will be affected, CNN reports.

Smithfield Foods is the world’s largest pork processor, the New York Post reports. The recently-closed Sioux Falls plant provides about 5% of all US pork production.

The Souix Falls Smithfield Foods plant isn’t the only meat plant shutting down. Fox News reports that Perdue Farms, Tyson Foods and JBS USA are all facing closures as well.

The closures have Smithfield Foods CEO Kenneth Sullivan concerned about possible meat shortages in the near future.

“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,” Sullivan said in a company statement. “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.”

The meatpacking industry has been hit particularly hard by the virus, according to Business Insider. There have been some employee deaths in some locations because some plants are requiring sick workers to come in to work, according to the New York Times.

Sullivan said Smithfield Foods and other meatpackers are continuing to operate during the COVID-19 pandemic in order to help sustain the American food supply, MarketWatch reports.

“We believe it is our obligation to help feed the country, now more than ever. We have a stark choice as a nation: we are either going to produce food or not, even in the face of COVID-19,” Sullivan said in his earlier statement.