"It is impossible to keep our grocery stores stocked if our plants are not running," said a Smithfield Foods Inc. spokesperson
meat shortage
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One food supplier is warning of a nationwide meat shortage as it temporarily closes one of its processing facilities due to novel coronavirus (COVID-19) concerns.

On Sunday, Smithfield Foods Inc. announced that it would be shutting down its plant in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, until further notice. According to the company, the location is one of the largest pork processing facilities in the United States and accounts for 4 to 5 percent of the nation’s pork production.

The plant is said to supply some 130 million servings of food per week — 18 million servings a day — and employs 3,700 workers. It also works with more than 550 independent family farmers for its livestock.

In a press release about the decision, Kenneth M. Sullivan, president and CEO of Smithfield, cautioned that COVID-19 shutdowns are leading “perilously close” to a widespread shortage of meat in grocery stores.

“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.”

Added Sullivan: “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.”

Smithfield Foods processing
Employees and family members protest outside a Smithfield Foods processing plant in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, on April 9.
| Credit: Stephen Groves/AP/Shutterstock

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The company said it will pay employees for the next two weeks and will reopen once given the okay from local, state and federal officials.

“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,” said Sullivan. “Numerous plants across the country have COVID-19 positive employees. We have continued to run our facilities for one reason: to sustain our nation’s food supply during this pandemic.”

He continued: “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.”

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Other meat suppliers have halted production at several locations across the country. Tyson Foods Inc. announced earlier this month that it would suspend production at a Columbus Junction, Iowa, pork plant after employees tested positive for the coronavirus.

“We’re working hard to protect our team members during this ever-changing situation, while also ensuring we continue fulfilling our critical role of helping feed people across the country,” Tyson CEO Noel White said in a statement last week.

White added: “While these are challenging times, we remain committed to protecting our people while continuing to meet the needs of our customers and consumers across America.”

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