Tyson Foods, Inc. announced Wednesday that it will be “indefinitely suspending” operations at its pork processing plant in Waterloo, Iowa, according to a company press release.
The Associated Press (AP) reports that the shutdown is due to links discovered between the facility and a burgeoning coronavirus outbreak. The company already shut down operations at its Columbus Junction pork processing plant to protect its employees from coronavirus infections, and four people who worked at a Tyson Foods poultry processing facility in Georgia recently died due to COVID-19 complications.
“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, the group president of Tyson Fresh Meats, the branch of Tyson Foods that oversees meat processing.
Stouffer notes that a combination of worker absenteeism, COVID-19 cases and health concerns among the Tyson Food community ultimately culminated in the decision to halt production.
The closure of the Waterloo plant, which AP notes employs 3,000 workers and can process around 19,500 hogs per day, will likely cause further disruptions in the U.S. meat supply, along with the closure of the meat industry leader Smithfield Foods pork processing facility in Sioux Falls, S.D.
“The closure has significant ramifications beyond our company, since the plant is part of a larger supply chain that includes hundreds of independent farmers, truckers, distributors and customers, including grocers,” Stouffer elaborated. “It means the loss of a vital market outlet for farmers and further contributes to the disruption of the nation’s pork supply.”
AP reports that, so far, 180 cases of coronavirus were confirmed at the Waterloo plant earlier this week.
The company said that it has formed a coronavirus task force to monitor employee well-being during the pandemic and is using precautions such as taking employee temperatures and requiring staff to wear protective face coverings. Tyson Foods also said it promotes social distancing by installing workspace dividers.
Other Tyson Foods pork and poultry facilities currently operate, with some “running at reduced levels of production.”
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