Meat Processing Plants Are Shutting Down As Workers Get Sick from COVID-19

updated Apr 22, 2020
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Credit: Emma Christensen

Since publication, Tyson has shut down its largest pork plant the Waterloo facility in Iowa, according to Bloomberg. Tyson’s Columbus Junction facility has resumed with limited operations.

New safety issues have arisen at meat processing plants around the country due to coronavirus. Tyson’s pork plant at the Columbus Junction facility in Iowa has more than two dozen workers who were infected, while a Pennsylvania processor had to close a beef plant, reports CNN. Meanwhile, a Smithfield plant in South Dakota closed after more than 200 cases were found among employees.

CNN reported that food shortages at the consumer level were unlikely, with stores still full and many restaurants selling from their wholesalers directly to consumers. But the outbreaks have temporarily shut down more and more meat processing plants around the country with each passing day. To combat this, the U.S. government, reports Bloomberg, has  given the okay for many chicken plants to speed up their processing — going from 140 birds per minute to 175, an increase of 25% over the standard speed.

According to Bloomberg, experts and labor advocates have long argued that this is a dangerous way for the plants to operate (though the program under which this is allowed was put in place by the Trump administration in 2018). The National Chicken Council disagrees, claiming that the sped-up parts are already automated and that this will have little impact on the safety of either the workers at the plant or the food itself.

However, the individual plants have different takes: “At this point, we haven’t made any drastic increases,” said a spokesperson for Tyson. “And in some cases, we’re slowing down the line to allow for social distancing and safety of our team members.”