Tyson to suspend operations at largest pork plant indefinitely due to coronavirus pandemic

Tyson Foods Inc. will be suspending operations at its largest pork plant indefinitely, the company confirmed Wednesday.

The Waterloo, Iowa, facility had been running at reduced levels of production from workers being absent due to the coronavirus pandemic, the company said in a statement.

“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.”

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Those employees affected by the closure will be compensated while the plant is closed, the company said.

The move to shutter the facility comes after the company was forced to close a separate hog slaughterhouse in Iowa, after a number of employees tested positive for the novel coronavirus.

Tyson Foods formed a coronavirus task force in January in an attempt to protect workers and the facility from an outbreak. However, the increase in cases has forced the plant to close.

Tyson Fresh Meats, the beef and pork subsidiary of Tyson Foods, Inc., said a reopening date would be dependent on “a variety of factors, including the outcome of team member testing for COVID-19.” The plant is planning on testing its 2,800 employees later in the week.

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Tyson's announcement is just the latest upset to the meat-industry, and potentially the U.S. food supply.

Last week, Smithfield Foods, the largest pork processor in the nation, closed its Sioux Falls plant after hundreds of its employees tested positive for COVID-19. The president and CEO warned of “severe, perhaps disastrous” consequences from the closures.

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“The closure of this facility, combined with a growing list of other protein plants that have shuttered across our industry, is pushing our country perilously close to the edge in terms of our meat supply,” Kenneth M. Sullivan, of Smithfield, said in a media release earlier this month.

Smithfield reported this plant alone accounted for “4 to 5 percent” of the entirety of U.S. pork production.