“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,” said Steve Stouffer, group president of Tyson Fresh Meats.
The closure follows other major shutdowns at plants run by Smithfield Foods, JBS USA and other companies that prop up the country’s meat supply. U.S. production of beef and pork largely relies on a few massive facilities. Stouffer said hundreds of independent farmers are tied to the Waterloo plant, along with truckers, distributors and grocers.
“It means the loss of a vital market outlet for farmers and further contributes to the disruption of the nation’s pork supply,” Stouffer said.
Even for meat that does get processed, restaurants are slashing orders for expensive cuts that do not necessarily sell at supermarkets. Industry experts worry if grocers run low, shoppers will begin hoarding meat, much as they have with toilet paper, cleaning supplies and pantry staples since the pandemic started.
More than 180 infections were confirmed among plant workers earlier this week, the AP reported, and hundreds more have stopped filling their shifts. Tyson is continuing to pay employees while the plant is closed and will offer testing for the coronavirus to staff later this week.
The move came after local officials, including Waterloo’s mayor, called on Tyson to shut down and curb the number of cases linked to facility. Black Hawk County Sheriff Tony Thompson said, “We need a hard boot, reset on that plant.” Tyson had temporarily closed its plant in Columbus Junction, Iowa, before reopening with limited production.
On Monday, JBS — the U.S. subsidiary of the world’s largest processor of fresh beef and pork — announced it would indefinitely close a pork plant in Worthington, Minn. The facility, which employs more than 2,000 people and processes 20,000 hogs a day, was the third JBS plant to suspend operations after spikes in infections from the coronavirus. It shut down its Greeley, Colo., beef facility last week and another in Souderton, Pa., which has since reopened.
Earlier this month, Smithfield Foods announced its plant in Sioux Falls, S.D., would shutter indefinitely. The plant represents 4 to 5 percent of U.S. pork production, the company said.
National Beef Packing also has closed its plant in Tama, Iowa. Cargill halted production at its Hazleton, Pa., ground beef and pork processing plant. The company also scaled back operations at one of Canada’s biggest beef-packing plants after dozens of workers contracted the virus.