After a week in which two of its meat processing plants in the United States were shut down due to COVID-19 concerns, Tyson Foods warned Americans that they should expect to see shortages of meat in supermarkets as a result.
Chairman of the board John Tyson published a full-page open letter to consumers on Sunday in in The New York Times, Washington Post and Arkansas Democrat-Gazette in which he noted, “In small communities around the country where we employ over 100,000 hard-working men and women, we’re being forced to shutter our doors. This means one thing — the food supply chain is vulnerable. As pork, beef and chicken plants are being forced to close, even for short periods of time, millions of pounds of meat will disappear from the supply chain. As a result, there will be limited supply of our products available in grocery stores until we are able to reopen our facilities that are currently closed.”
Tyson Fresh Meats, the beef and pork subsidiary of Tyson Foods Inc., announced April 22 that it was indefinitely suspending operations at its Waterloo, Iowa, pork plant due to the impact of COVID-19. On Wednesday, April 23, the company announced that its Logansport, Ind., facility will voluntarily close while its more than 2,200 team members undergo testing.
“In addition to meat shortages, this is a serious food waste issue,” the letter continued. “Farmers across the nation simply will not have anywhere to sell their livestock to be processed, when they could have fed the nation. Millions of animals — chickens, pigs and cattle — will be depopulated because of the closure of our processing facilities. The food supply chain is breaking.”
Springdale, Ark.-based Tyson Foods has been focused on COVID-19 since January, when it formed a company coronavirus task force. It has since implemented numerous measures to protect workers. It was one of the first food companies to start taking workers' temperatures. Tyson started efforts to secure a supply of protective face coverings before the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention recommended them and now requires their use in all facilities. In an effort to promote social distancing, plants have installed workstation dividers and are providing more breakroom space.
The company’s other meat and poultry plants currently continue to operate, but some are running at reduced levels of production either due to the planned implementation of additional worker safety precautions or worker absenteeism. The company has suspended production for a day at some locations for additional deep cleaning and sanitization.
“It hasn’t been easy, and it’s not over,” Tyson wrote. “But I have faith that together, we’ll get through this. We will continue to bring new ideas to the table, solve new problems, and create new opportunities. We must come together to keep our nation fed, our country strong, and our employees healthy.
“I’m grateful for team members, our customers, our communities and our consumers who depend on our products every day.”
Other brands have also shut down meat processing plants as a result of COVID-19 outbreaks. Earlier in April, Smithfield Foods Inc. announced that its Sioux Falls, S.D., facility will remain closed until further notice. The plant is one of the largest pork processing facilities in the U.S., representing 4-5% of U.S. pork production. It supplies nearly 130 million servings of food per week, or about 18 million servings per day. More than 550 independent family farmers supply the plant.
In addition, National Beef Packing stopped slaughtering cattle at an Iowa plant, and JBS USA shut down work at a beef plant in Pennsylvania. Cargill Inc. closed a plant in Hazleton, Pa., that produces meat for U.S. grocery stores.
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