Tyson Foods’ pork processing plant in Columbus Junction, Iowa, has suspended operations for a week beginning Monday due to more than two dozen cases of COVID-19 confirmed at the facility.
“In an effort to minimize the impact on our overall production, we’re diverting the livestock supply originally scheduled for delivery to Columbus Junction to some of our other pork plants in the region,” Tyson CEO Noel White said in a statement Monday.
Meat and poultry plants are experiencing varying levels of production impact throughout the country, due to the planned implementation of additional worker safety precautions and worker absenteeism, White said.
Local producers are concerned about the impact this closure will have on their ability to sell hogs.
“As a small guy, I worry if I will even be able to get shackle space now. Even though I am a smaller producer, it’s going to affect everyone,” says Shane Brinning, an independent pork producer from West Chester, Iowa, who sells his hogs to a competitor.
Dean Sieren, a pork producer from Keota, Iowa, says the plant closing makes tough times tougher.
“We are geared to sell pigs 52 weeks out of the year. It’s our job to keep the food chain running and we are set up to do that. A plant closure creates a dramatic blow on pork farmers in the area. There’s not enough shackle space to absorb one plant,” Sieren says.
Just as pig farmers were crawling out of the hole after 12 months of tough battles, COVID-19 hit and brought a whole new set of challenges, Sieren adds.
“There’s a lot of puzzle pieces within a packing plant. It was bound to happen, but we were hoping it wouldn’t. One way or another it will work out in the end,” Sieren says.
Worker safety remains a priority
In addition to taking the temperature of workers at all of Tyson’s locations before they enter company facilities, White said they’ve stepped up deep cleaning and sanitizing of their facilities, especially in employee breakrooms, locker rooms and other areas to protect team members.
“We’re working hard to protect our team members during this ever-changing situation, while also ensuring we continue fulfilling our critical role of helping feed people across the country,” White said. “This additional cleaning sometimes requires suspending at least one day of production.”
They are also working closely with federal agencies to emphasize the need for personal protective equipment to support team members as they remain open.
“We’re working to secure an adequate supply of protective face coverings for production workers and have implemented interim protocols for temporary protective coverings, while observing food safety,” White said.
Tyson continues to explore and implement additional ways to promote more social distancing in the plants. According to Tyson’s statement, this includes erecting dividers between workstations or increasing the space between workers on the production floor, which can involve slowing production lines.
They are also creating more room in non-production areas. In some locations, they have set up tents to create outdoor break rooms.
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