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NewsTrucking

Meat processing closings to protect humans make it harder to feed them

Local safety orders collide with America’s demand for convenient access to food

COVID-19-related closings and disruptions at meat-processing facilities around the country create a conflict between keeping people safe and providing streamlined access to food.

“One challenge is state and local officials making decisions about our operations in an inconsistent manner and sometimes without recognizing that our mission is to keep families fed,” said Sarah Little, spokeswoman for the North American Meat Institute (NAMI).

NAMI represents 95% of meat and 70% of turkey processors in the United States. Its facilities are subject to strict federal inspection as well as oversight from state and local health departments, she said.

“We’ve had an emphasis on maintaining an affordable, cheap food supply for our people in this country,” said Glenn Muller, executive director of the South Dakota Pork Producers Council. “In order to do that, you need to maximize all your efficiencies all the way through the food chain. And any disruption creates issues like we’re dealing with here today.”

South Dakota ordered a two-week shutdown of the massive Smithfield Foods Inc. pork-processing plant in Sioux Falls on Sunday. COVID-19 cases linked to the facility had surpassed 300 as of Monday. It was unclear whether those cases all occurred in the plant, which employs 3,700, but the rate of infection led to its being labeled an infection hot spot.

South Dakota is one of few states without a shelter-in-place order.

Smithfield said that after inventory was cleared Tuesday, the plant would be shuttered indefinitely. Workers will be paid for the next two weeks.

“If there’s anything good to come from this whole discussion, it’s that the public needs to get an understanding of how critical every phase of the food chain is and how critical every employee is to maintain an economical food supply,” Muller said.

Tyson shutdown

In Columbus Junction, Iowa, a one-week suspension of production at a Tyson Foods Inc. (NYSE: TSN) pork-processing plant is stretching to a second week, spokeswoman Liz Croston told FreightWaves. Two dozen workers at the plant had contracted the coronavirus.

“We will extend the suspension of operations for this week,” she said. “We will continue to pay our Columbus Junction team members while they are out and will also continue to divert livestock originally scheduled for delivery to Columbus Junction to our other pork plants, where possible.”

Some other Tyson plants have scaled back operations, Croston said,

“Our meat and poultry plants are experiencing varying levels of production impact, due to the planned implementation of additional worker safety precautions and worker absenteeism,” Tyson said in a recent statement.

Where’s the beef?

In Greeley, Colorado, a JBS USA Holdings meatpacking plant closed Monday until April 24 following the deaths of two workers from COVID-19. More than 40 others had contracted the virus, according to the United Food and Commercial Workers union.

The facility is winding down operations, with a small number of workers clearing beef inventory. Workers will be paid during the shutdown and encouraged to follow state and county shelter-in-place orders.

“While the Greeley beef facility is critical to the U.S. food supply and local producers, the continued spread of coronavirus in Weld County requires decisive action,” said Andre Nogueira, CEO of JBS USA.

Closings like the one in Greeley will impact cattle and beef prices, according to the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA).

“Plant closures or slow-downs have significant regional and national implications that will ripple through the marketplace at a time when cattle producers are already suffering from market uncertainty and economic hardship,” the NCBA said. “Every member of the beef supply chain relies on processing plants operating daily to keep product moving.”

Supply chain impact

Trucking and supply chain disruptions caused by the closings are real but temporary, Steve Meyer, a consulting economist with the National Pork Board, told FreightWaves.

“From a trucking standpoint, somebody is going to haul those pigs and animals,” Meyer said.

The temporary labor shortage suggests increased automation in food-processing plants might be a solution the next time operations are disrupted, said Syracuse University Supply Chain Professor Rong Li.

“Although they have made their supply chain responsive, going forward they need to think more about how to make their plants more automatic and easier to monitor and control remotely to hedge against the risk of labor shortage,” she said.

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Alan Adler

Alan Adler is a Detroit-based award-winning journalist who worked for The Associated Press, the Detroit Free Press and most recently as Detroit Bureau Chief for Trucks.com. He also spent two decades in domestic and international media relations and executive communications with General Motors.

6 Comments

  1. Quote:

    “One challenge is state and local officials making decisions about our operations in an inconsistent manner and sometimes without recognizing that our mission is to keep families fed,” said Sarah Little, spokeswoman for the North American Meat Institute (NAMI).”

    Number 1 – If you want to keep on feeding families then you need to protect them . It’s a lot more profitable to keep your consumers “alive” .

    Second point –

    Quote:

    “We’ve had an emphasis on maintaining an affordable, cheap food supply for our people in this country,” said Glenn Muller, executive director of the South Dakota Pork Producers Council. “In order to do that, you need to maximize all your efficiencies all the way through the food chain. And any disruption creates issues like we’re dealing with here today.”

    – In response to the second part , if you want to maximize your efficiencies you need to take care of your employees and protect them which will protect your business . By doing so you ensure no preventable disruption in your “food chain” will occur .

    If I were employing 3700 workers during a pandemic , I would be testing each and every one of them before their shift starts at the plant on a daily basis . I would also implement social distancing measures within the plant . Neglecting to do so would have a tremendous negative impact on the bottom line . Therefore one must be willing to be flexible and incorporate preventive measures to mitigate potential disruptions in the “food chain” .

    Among the many things a virus and or a bacteria has taught us : A crowd is its best friend . Negligence also empowers it to spread .
    This plant was extremely negligent and in doing so it and its employees are unfortunately paying the price . Not only is the plant and employees going to pay a price ,consumers will as well . In this particular case , MANAGEMENT is to blame .

    On a State note :

    From my perspective there is a very clear pattern here not only from a state to state point of view but also on a country to country one worldwide .

    You all can’t see the forest from the trees . In another sense , keep your friends close and your enemies even closer . In this case your enemy is the COVID-19 outbreak . Your competition is other states . Therefore keep a very close eye on your neighbors and your neighbor’s neighbors !

    You all wait until it’s too late before applying stay-at-home and social distancing measures to prevent the outbreak from hitting you . If you see your neighbor’s neighbor experiencing infected cases , don’t wait for your neighbor to experience cases before applying measures to mitigate the occurrence from appearing in your backyard . Prevent ! If infected cases have already spread to your neighbor then it’s highly likely to be to late . Don’t wait for cases to appear in your state , city etc and worse , for the cases to increase before taking preventive measures . This is the unfortunate action you’re all taking . You’re waiting to long !

    1 case is one too many that will spread and multiply ! An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure . Act before , not after . Prevent rather than react . Had countries acted in this preventive fashion we wouldn’t be experiencing a worldwide pandemic .

    So rather than repeat the errors that lead to this unfortunate widespread , LEARN Don’t repeat , prevent !

    You cannot allow yourselves to be emotional about this . Some governors are saying , ” it doesn’t make sense to shut down” because of x reasons .

    REALLY ???

    What doesn’t make sense is not to do so in order to control and prevent this virus from taking control of you and making you regret and potentially taking lives along the way . Outsmart it ! Currently this little freaking virus has outsmarted the world because most underestimated it and reacted rather than prevented !

    Short term pain is well worth the price for long term gain . A life is priceless . You can’t replace a loved one . You have the power to beat this thing ! Use it wisely . Don’t be careless , especially not now .

    Best of luck unless you wake up ! If you wake up then you won’t need luck .

    In my humble opinion ……….

    1. Furthermore, we see this sort of mentality on a daily basis in the markets . The crowd/herd mentality buy at the peaks and sell at the bottoms .

      In this COVID-19 pandemic you wait too long before acting to prevent , and then you want to rush to reopen . This is insanity at its best .

      Try doing the opposite . Act quickly to prevent , then take your time to reopen prudently .

      In my humble opinion ………..

  2. Quote :

    COVID-19 cases confirmed at 3 Alberta meat-packing plants

    “Cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed at a third Alberta meat-packing plant, according to the union that represents those workers.

    Hesse said the plants are built to have workers in close quarters, making physical distancing challenging. 
    Roughly a dozen meat-packing plants in North America have shut down due to coronavirus.

    The industry is a demanding one not withstanding the risk of infection due to close quarters, with workers subject to physical labour and repetitive tasks. 

    “Workers do work side-by-side … crowded hallways, crowded locker rooms, crowded lunch rooms, crowded washrooms and of course a crowded production floor,” Hesse said.

    “This is a very profoundly unique time, and I just don’t know why society is prepared to say ‘stay home, do everything you can to prevent the spread of this virus’ … but we’re allowing a free-for-all in food processing plants and grocery stores.”

  3. AGAIN !

    Quote :

    “Smithfield Foods closes two more plants”

    Pork processor Smithfield Foods is temporarily closing two more plants, one in Cudahy, Wis., and one in Martin City, Mo., due to the coronavirus pandemic.

    Both plants have a small number of employees who have tested positive for the coronavirus, The Associated Press reported. The Missouri plant is closed indefinitely, and the Wisconsin plant is closed for two weeks.

    The Missouri plant, which produces spiral hams, receives raw material from Smithfield’s Sioux Falls, S.D. facility. A worker at that plant, which closed indefinitely on April 12, has died from coronavirus and overall it has 518 infected employees and 126 infected people connected to employees. ”

    End quote Read more by googling the headline : Smithfield Foods closes two more plants

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