Chicago | Reuters — JBS USA said on Monday it would indefinitely shut a Minnesota hog slaughterhouse that produces about five per cent of the country’s pork, in the latest disruption to the U.S. food supply chain from the coronavirus pandemic.
The closure limits the amount of meat the United States can produce for consumers during the outbreak and adds stress on farmers who are losing a market for their pigs.
JBS is closing a pork production facility at Worthington, Minn. that employs more than 2,000 workers and processes 20,000 hogs per day, according to a statement.
The company advised plant employees to follow a state order to stay at home to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, until the facility in Nobles County reopens. Worthington is about 100 km east of Sioux Falls, S.D., where Smithfield Foods shuttered its pork plant last week due to a major outbreak of COVID-19 among employees.
“It is clear that the disease is far more widespread across the U.S. and in our county than official estimates indicate based on limited testing,” said Bob Krebs, president of JBS USA Pork.
The U.S. government has deemed agricultural workers to be essential during the pandemic because they are responsible for maintaining the country’s food supply. The Worthington facility will wind down operations over the next two days with a reduced staff so pork that is already in the facility can be “used to support the food supply,” Brazilian-owned JBS said.
Rivals Tyson Foods and WH Group’s Smithfield have already closed pork plants due to outbreaks of the contagious respiratory virus among employees. JBS and National Beef Packing Co. have shut beef plants.
Meat companies have struggled as workers have stayed home out of fear of contracting the virus at plants.
Processors are taking employees’ temperatures before they enter facilities and have installed dividers between workers in an attempt to promote social distancing.
“When COVID-19 is prevalent in the community, fear is heightened, absenteeism rises and the challenge of keeping the virus out becomes greater,” JBS said. “When absenteeism levels become too high, facilities cannot safely operate.”
— Reporting for Reuters by Tom Polansek.