Coronavirus panic: Food supply chain at risk as slaughterhouses forced to shut

Smithfield slaughterhouse in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, one of the largest pork-producing sites in the US, has been shuttered after nearly 300 employees tested positive for COVID-19. The firm’s CEO Kenneth Sullivan warned the nation’s supply of meat is “perilously close” to the edge. On Sunday the company said it would close the plant indefinitely.

Mr Sullivan warned:”It is impossible to keep our grocery stores stocked if our plants are not running.

“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.”

He said the falling number of meat plants in operation will have a ripple effect throughout the economy.

“These facility closures will also have severe, perhaps disastrous, repercussions for many in the supply chain, first and foremost our nation’s livestock farmers,” he said in a statement.

“These farmers have nowhere to send their animals.”

Smithfield slaughterhouse provides 4-5 percent of the pork produced in the US.

The company had originally planned to temporarily shutter the site, which employs 3,700 workers, for a deep clean.

The move came after 293 staff members contracted coronavirus.

A total of 730 people in South Dakota have been diagnosed with the virus.

South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem had urged the company to “do more” to tackle the spread of COVID-19.

On Saturday she said the slaughterhouse would close for three days for cleaning and the installation of social distancing barriers.

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But the state asked the company to close the site for at least two weeks.

Gov Noem and and Sioux Falls Mayor Paul Tenhaken wrote to the company urging them to take action.

They said: “As a critical infrastructure employer for the nation’s food supply chain and a major employer in Sioux Falls, it is crucial that Smithfield have a healthy workforce to ensure the continuity of operations to feed the nation.”

“At the same time, employees need a healthy work environment.”

The US remains the epicentre of the global outbreak, with New York being the hardest hit state.

The closure of Smithfield comes as meat-producing companies across America are cutting back on their output

A beef plant in Souderton, Pennsylvania, has been closed until at least Thursday.

JBS USA, which owns the site, has also scaled back work at another plant in Colorado due to a high number of staff being absent.

Experts have not found any evidence that coronavirus can be passed on through food, but shoppers have been advised to wipe down packaging.

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