Meat production this week is up about 3 percent compared with the previous week, according to market reports by SiriusXM’s Rural Radio. That’s still off by as much as a third from a year ago. The numbers are causing some retailers to ration fresh meat purchases or risk selling out their entire supplies.
The beef, pork, and poultry markets were all tossed in April when the coronavirus pandemic struck, leading to temporary plant closures and production cutbacks. And more than ever the public sees the safety of employees in meat plants as synonymous with food safety.
If May does produce the recovery that Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue predicts will become a reality in the next seven to 10 days, the restart of a giant pork plant in Sioux Falls, SD, by Smithfield Foods will be a big contributor.
Smithfield employees in Sioux Falls returned to the old John Morrill plant Thursday to make preparations for getting production underway. The return to full operations is being done in phases. The kill floor will re-open on Monday, giving 550 independent hog producers a market for the first time in almost a month.
A Smithfield statement for the media says “the company is in full compliance with all CDC and Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) guidance.”
The statement also says COVID-19 testing of more than 2,000 Smithfield employees by South Dakota public health staff will continue as the reopening ramp-up goes forward. At full operation, the Smithfield plant employs 3,700 and generates 5 percent of all U.S. pork production.
“I toured the plant with our Joint Union Management Safety Committee and was impressed with the measures put in place to protect employees,” said B.J. Motley, president of the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 304A. “Smithfield is doing everything they can for the employees and their safety. We stand with Smithfield to get the plant back open.”
Smithfield says employee health and safety are the core of its reopening plan with adherence to the CDC-OSHA requirements being a minimum. Personal protective equipment (PPE) with masks and face shields are being used at all Smithfield facilities. Mass thermal scanning and physical barriers for production floors and break areas have been installed to protect employees.
The Smithfield, VA-based company employs 40,000 people in the U.S., and Smithfield, Eckrich, and Nathan’s Famous are among its brands.
Further meat production declines were prevented when the White House put the industry under the Defense Production Act to protect the U.S. food supply. Secretary Perdue, under DPA authority, ordered the implementation of the CDC-OSHA standards to protect the meat industry employees from contracting the virus at work.
Perdue says “patriotic meat processing facility workers are returning to work to make sure that America’s producers and ranchers can bring their product to market and the American people can have food to eat.”
About 8,000 meat industry employees are infected with the COVID-19 virus, a number that represents 6.15 percent of the industry’s national minimum workforce of 130,000. Twenty-seven meat industry deaths are blamed on the virus.
The American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) says COVID-19 is responsible for the deaths of three USDA meat inspectors, one from Illinois, Mississippi, and New York.
The USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) says 197 field inspectors were absent from work as of May 5 and 120 were under self-quarantine. FSIS employs 6,500 meat and poultry inspectors who are assigned to regulate establishments throughout the country.
FSIS initially offered to a $50 reimbursement to their meat inspectors to purchase face masks. The agency now says it is providing all inspection personnel with face masks and shields.
Update: This morning, Secretary Perdue released a list of major meatpacking facilities that “are resuming operations across the United States this week:”
- Tyson Perry, IA (pork)
- Tyson Waterloo, IA (pork)
- Tyson Logansport, IN (pork)
- Tyson Robards, KY (poultry)
- Tyson Portland, ME (further processor)
- Tyson Pasco, WA (beef)
- Tyson Dakota City, NE (beef)
- Aurora Packing, Aurora, IL (beef)
- JBS Green Bay, WI (beef)
- JBS Worthington, MN (pork)
- Smithfield Monmouth, IL (pork)
- Smithfield Sioux Falls, SD (pork)
- Indiana Packers, IN (pork)
- Jennie-O Turkey Store, Wilmar, MN (poultry)
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