A China-owned pork processor announced Sunday that it’s shutting down a South Dakota plant indefinitely after employees were infected with coronavirus, noting that the nation’s grocers are under severe stress.
Smithfield Foods announced the shutdown as government officials keep lockdowns in place across the country amid an ebbing coronavirus pandemic, which has killed more than 20,000 people in the United States. China’s WH Group purchased the company in 2013 for $4.7 billion.
Smithfield Foods retooled processing operations to direct meat to China, which produced much of the world’s pork shortly before a pig disease killed millions of hogs and turned the communist country into a major importer.
Recent reports show that Smithfield plants in the U.S. are now processing pork for the U.S. Reuters reported in November 2019 that pigs trucked in to a plant in Virginia were slaughtered and eventually shipped to China, where Chinese workers processed the carcasses.
“They got an order to fill: China,” one plant worker told Reuters in 2019. He asked to remain anonymous.
Smithfield Chief Executive Ken Sullivan, for his part, sounded a warning call Sunday about the decision to scuttle the plant.
“It is impossible to keep our grocery stores stocked if our plants are not running,” Sullivan said in a statement Sunday. “These facility closures will also have severe, perhaps disastrous, repercussions for many in the supply chain, first and foremost our nation’s livestock farmers.”
Roughly 238 Smithfield employees had active cases of the virus, which makes up about 55% of South Dakota’s total, Gov. Kristi Noem said in a statement Saturday. Noem recommended the company shutter the plant, which has about 3,700 workers, for at least two weeks.
Sullivan added: “We have a stark choice as a nation: we are either going to produce food or not, even in the face of COVID-19.” (RELATED: ‘We Are Too Reliant On China’: Cotton, Hawley Call On US To Regain Independence From Communist Regime)
The plant will resume operations once state and local officials provide guidance on a path forward, according to Sullivan’s statement, which noted that employees will be paid for the next two weeks. Local and state officials across the country are asking Americans to effectively shelter in place to slow the spread of coronavirus, or COVID-19, which originated in Wuhan, China.
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