Update (April 23): Food shortages across the country are coming a lot quicker than anyone has anticipated. A total of eight meatpacking plants have already gone offline in weeks. On Thursday morning, we noted how pork shortages could hit households by the first week of May.
Now we’re starting to learn the dominos are falling, with meatpacking plants shuttering operations across the country because of the coronavirus outbreak.
Tyson Foods Inc. has announced the third plant closure in about a week and the second closure within 24 hours. The latest announcement crossed the wires on Thursday afternoon, specifies how a major beef facility in Pasco, Washington, is shutting down operations because of the virus outbreak, reported Bloomberg.
“We’re working with local health officials to bring the plant back to full operation as soon as we believe it to be safe,” Steve Stouffer, head of Tyson Fresh Meats, said in the company’s statement.
“Unfortunately, the closure will mean reduced food supplies and presents problems to farmers who have no place to take their livestock. It’s a complicated situation across the supply chain.”
In total, eight major meatpacking plants have closed in the last several weeks. We noted on Thursday morning that a “rash of coronavirus outbreaks at dozens of meatpacking plants across the nation is far more extensive than previously thought.”
As for the plant in Washington, well, it produces enough beef to feed four million people per day. Just imagine what happens when people who have just lost their jobs experience food shortages, or maybe rapid food inflation. It could be a trigger for social unrest.
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Update (19:50): It appears meatpacking facilities in America’s heartland could be the next epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak.
On Wednesday, Tyson Foods announced two closures of meatpacking facilities because of coronavirus related issues.
Here’s the timeline of closures:
- We noted around 0900 ET that Tyson was closing its meatpacking plant in Waterloo, Iowa.
- Around 1800 ET, Tyson announced the second closure of a meatpacking plant, located in Logansport, Indiana.
Both plants are preparing for closure due to coronavirus related issues, with planned testing of all workers in the near term.
The Logansport’s facility “produces three million pounds of pork daily and helps support more than 250 independent family farmers from across nine states, suspended production for one day on April 20 for additional deep cleaning and sanitizing. Since then, the facility has been running at limited production and is expected to stop production on or before Saturday, April 25,” said a Tyson Foods press release.
“While we understand the necessity of keeping our facilities operational so that we can continue to feed the nation, the safety of our team members remains our top priority,” said Steve Stouffer, group president of Tyson Fresh Meats.
“Our company is deeply embedded in our plant communities, including Logansport. We’re working with the county to make sure our people and the community are safe. The combination of worker absenteeism, COVID-19 cases and community concerns has resulted in a collective decision to close.”
The reopening of the plant will depend on several factors, including the results of a COVID-19 test of workers.
We have noted the closure of meatpacking plants across the country will trigger supply disruptions and lead to product shortages in the near term.
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Food-security remains a significant problem during coronavirus lockdowns. The next big issue unfolding is the shuttering of the nation’s food plants could drive food inflation sky high.
On Wednesday, Tyson Fresh Meats, the beef and pork subsidiary of Tyson Foods, released a statement that said its plant in Waterloo, Iowa, will suspend operations until further notice.
The company said the Waterloo location is its largest pork plant, has been running at reduced output “due to worker absenteeism.”
Tyson is planning to test all 2,800 workers for COVID-19 at the facility later this week.
“Protecting our team members is our top priority and the reason we’ve implemented numerous safety measures during this challenging and unprecedented time,” said Steve Stouffer, group president of Tyson Fresh Meats.
“Despite our continued efforts to keep our people safe while fulfilling our critical role of feeding American families, the combination of worker absenteeism, COVID-19 cases and community concerns has resulted in our decision to stop production.”
Stouffer warned that the closure of the pork plant could ripple through the production chain and cause significant disruptions to the “nation’s pork supply:”
“The closure has significant ramifications beyond our company, since the plant is part of a larger supply chain that includes hundreds of independent farmers, truckers, distributors and customers, including grocers,” Stouffer said. “It means the loss of a vital market outlet for farmers and further contributes to the disruption of the nation’s pork supply.”
The company said workers would be “compensated while the plant is closed.” There was no firm timeline on when the plant would reopen. However, there were several factors, including the “outcome of team member testing for COVID-19.”
We noted over the weekend that meat prices across the country are surging as food processing plants are closing because of the virus.
The latest plant closure was China-owned Smithfield Food’s factory in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, the largest pork processing plant in the US, due to a coronavirus outbreak, could leave Americans without pork products.
Also, health officials in Illinois closed Hormel’s Rochelle Foods plant last Friday, a move that could trigger a shortage of Spam products.
And it appears food inflation could be imminent as coronavirus is leading to the shutdown of food manufacturing plants across the country.
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