World's largest pork producer shuts fifth plant forcing pig farmers to euthanize animals

Several of Smithfield Foods' employees have been hit by the disease and the organization has been accused of not doing enough to protect its workers


                            World's largest pork producer shuts fifth plant forcing pig farmers to euthanize animals
(Getty Images)

The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has already been devastating for the US economy. Local producers of vegetables and milk have been hit badly as plummeting demands because of shutdown have seen them wasting their excess production either through spilling or burying. The big producers have been hit no less. Smithfield Foods, the world’s largest pork producer, is likely to close a fifth processing plant because several of its employees have fallen ill with the disease. The US has almost a million people affected from the virus while more than 56,000 have died.

Smithfield, which is based in Virginia and owned by China’s WH Group Ltd, has already shut down pork-processing units in states like Missouri, Illinois, South Dakota and Wisconsin. Daily Mail cited a pig farmer saying that the company is also shutting down its unit in Crete, Nebraska, and this could see a major shortage of beef and pork products and raise the prices. According to the Mail report, at least 47 employees at the Nebraska plant have been hit by the deadly virus. More than 20 employees were also infected at the slaughterhouse in South Dakota, a state which produces four-five percent of the US’ total pork production.

Last Thursday, April 22, a lawsuit was filed in Missouri federal court on behalf of workers accusing the company of failing to provide its workers at the state plant adequate safety against the outbreak. It even alleged that the company did not give the employees time to wash their hands. The state of Missouri also sued the government of China last week on charges that it misled the world on the issue of the pandemic.

America’s meat production has tumbled since February 1 as processing plants have remained closed because of the coronavirus that saw a lesser number of animals getting killed. While pork production has gone down by over 15 percent in this time, cattle meat production got lesser by around 11 percent and chicken by 5.7 percent, data from the agriculture department showed

Euthanizing pigs will be the last resort

Aaron Doerr, the pig farmer who revealed to the Mail the bad news about the Smithfield processing plant in Nebraska, is now faced with the challenge of managing his pigs since there is no place to send them. Many other big farmers in the country have a similar problem like Doerr, who said the Crete plant takes almost 10,000 pigs daily. People like Doerr, who has some 3,000 pigs, might have no other option at the end but euthanize their animals even if they hate to do it.

“When we combine all the slaughterhouses, we are talking about some 100,000 pigs a day that are being processed,” a swine vet told the Mail on the condition of anonymity. “Yes, it would be wonderful if an animal sanctuary could take in a thousand pigs, but it's highly unlikely and it doesn't solve the problem.”

Getting rid of the growing pig population has already become a concern as the American Association of Swine Veterinarians updated its Recommendations for Depopulation of Swine last week with methods like gunshot, electrocution, manual blunt force trauma, etc. The swine vet said another way is to feed the animals less and stop their breeding completely. Doerr, who called it “clusterf***k”, wanted the government to intervene.

Doerr spoke in favor of the PRIME Act which he said would give the local facilities inspected by the state a greater capacity to move the product into stores. “The PRIME Act would allow small farms to sell their pork directly to grocery stores and wherever this is a pork shortage,” he said.

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