SMITHFIELD, VA. – After a three-week closure due to a coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak at the Smithfield Foods Inc. pork processing plant in Sioux Falls, SD, the company announced plans to initially resume harvesting operations May 11 as it works toward full production by late May. The announcement was made after officials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) inspected the facility, confirming that plant officials took steps to comply with its guidance and recommendations from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).
During the closure, state health officials tested more than 2,000 workers for the virus and plans to conduct more testing as operations resume at the plant, which employs about 3,700 people.
The company said reopening the plant helps to minimize the threat of an interruption to the country’s food supply chain, provides jobs for the facility’s workers and ensures the livelihood of the livestock producers supplying animals to the plant.
Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue said President Donald Trump’s approval of the Defense Production Act provided companies like Smithfield with a path to getting facilities back to normal operations. He expressed his appreciation for the companies’ efforts to implement safeguards to ensure the safety of employees.
“These meat processing facilities implemented CDC and OSHA guidance quickly and effectively, providing uniform health and safety standards so their employees know they are operating in a safe environment,” Perdue said. “I want to thank these patriotic meat processing facility workers who are returning to work to make sure that America’s producers and ranchers can bring their product to market and the American people can have food to eat.”
BJ Motley, president of the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 304A, saw the steps taken by Smithfield firsthand and endorsed its reopening.
“I toured the plant with our Joint Union Management Safety Committee and was impressed with the measures put in place to protect employees,” Motley said. “Smithfield is doing everything they can for the employees and their safety. We stand with Smithfield to get this plant back open.”
Supplying workers with personal protective equipment, conducting health screenings of employees and installing dividers between workstations and in break areas are some of the precautionary steps Smithfield is taking at its processing plants.
“These measures remain mandatory and nonnegotiable conditions for the company to operate,” Smithfield said.
Representing pork producers in the state, Glen Muller, executive director of the South Dakota Pork Producers, lauded the efforts of Smithfield and stressed the vital role the workers play to keep the supply of food uninterrupted.
“The Smithfield reopening is welcome news for South Dakota’s pig farmers,” Muller said on May 6. “As employees return to the plant tomorrow, we want them to know how much we appreciate and value the role they play in helping our state’s pig farmers meet consumer demand for pork. This is a significant and important step forward in normalizing our food supply chain.”