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Tyson Foods said two employees died of coronavirus after an outbreak at its temporarily closed Columbus Junction plant in Iowa as the poultry industry faces struggles similar to those affecting pork and dairy producers.
"We’re deeply saddened by the loss of two team members from our Columbus Junction plant," a Tyson Foods spokesperson said in a statement. "Their families are in our thoughts and prayers. The plant has been closed since April 6 and remains idle."
The poultry industry says the pandemic has led to a reduced workforce at processing plants, which means farmers may have to kill birds instead of sending them for harvest. Allen Harim Foods, a Delaware-based chicken company, is reportedly being forced to kill up to 2 million chickens.
The National Chicken Council sent a letter to Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue earlier this week asking for "relief for family farmers due to potential supply chain effects." NCC said Thursday that Perdue's latest comments about helping agricultural producers were reassuring.
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Perdue said the U.S. Department of Agriculture would buy dairy and protein products "that doesn't have a home and a market for it" during an appearance on "Mornings with Maria" on Thursday. Such products would be distributed to food banks and other charities.
An NCC spokesperson explained why the poultry industry needs help.
"About one-half of the chicken sold domestically is to the foodservice or the away from-home market," the spokesperson told FOX Business. "With the restrictions imposed on these food establishments, this marketing channel essentially disappeared overnight. Abundant chicken supplies from current production and in cold storage offer an excellent opportunity for USDA to obtain high quality, wholesome chicken for distribution."