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All eyes are on meat processing facilities, including the indefinitely closed Smithfield plant in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, as coronavirus cases pop up in plants in Iowa, Kansas and other states while the industry voices concerns about a possible meat shortage.
South Dakota health officials report that more than 600 employees at the Sioux Falls plant have tested positive for coronavirus. The plant closed in mid-April, but many other meat processing plants in other states remain open (although with far fewer employee cases).
Smithfield CEO Ken Sullivan warned of a pork shortage after government officials insisted the facility cease operations.
"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," Sullivan said in a statement on April 12.
His statement came before the U.S. Department of Agriculture committed to buying $3 billion in produce, dairy and meat because of the pandemic after producers warned they would have to waste milk and poultry because of interruptions in the supply chain. The food will go to food banks and nonprofits.
"It's affected all of agriculture," Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue told "Mornings with Maria" on Thursday. "If we don't have the farmers and ranchers there to produce food, then there won't be full shelves in the fall."
The Sioux Falls area has become a coronavirus hotspot because of Smithfield employee cases. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention visited the plant on Thursday. Smithfield temporarily closed two other plants after Sioux Falls: one in Cudahy, Wisconsin, after employees tested positive for the virus; and one in Martin City, Missouri, which needs raw materials from the South Dakota plant.
The concentration of cases has highlighted the particular susceptibility of meat processing workers, who stand shoulder-to-shoulder on the line and congregate in crowded locker rooms and cafeterias. As many as half a dozen plants have shut because of outbreaks.
Other plants including Rose Packing in Chicago, a JBS plant in Worthington, Minnesota, and National Beef Packing Co.'s Dodge City, Kansas, plant are still operating, although they are taking measures after employees tested positive for the virus.
Tyson Foods has also been forced to close its Columbus Junction, Iowa, plant after an outbreak of coronavirus. At least two employees have died. Tyson's Waterloo, Iowa, plant is still open, although local officials sent the company a letter asking it to temporarily close the plant on Friday, the Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier reported.
"We continue working diligently to protect our team members at facilities across the country by taking worker temperatures, requiring protective face coverings and conducting additional cleaning and sanitizing," a Tyson spokesperson previously told FOX Business. "We’re implementing social distancing measures, such as installing workstation dividers, spreading out work stations where possible, and providing more breakroom space."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.