Sioux Falls mayor Paul TenHaken told NPR it was not easy to get Smithfield executives to close the plant. He described the discussions as “tense” and said: “You know, you shut down a plant like that, it has a pretty big impact on the food supply. So we weren’t taking this lightly, making this request.”
The Sioux Falls plant wasn’t the only meat processing plant to close this week. Two other Smithfield plants—one in Martin City, Missouri (part of the greater Kansas City metro area) and one in Cudahy, Wisconsin—also shut their doors this week.
Three Latino workers from the JBS Meat Processing plant in Greeley, Colorado died last week, forcing the closure of that plant for deep cleaning. Workers were said to be working “elbow-to-elbow.” Farmworker advocates like Dolores Huerta told NBC News these “invisible” workers provide an invaluable service but don’t have enough information and aren’t getting necessary protections. Kim Cordova, president of the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 7 union, told NBC News one of the challenges is translating and communicating the threat to workers. “We have been filing grievances trying to get the company to file notices about COVID-19. They had very little material that was translated into the different languages; there are 30 languages spoken at that plant.”
Dr. Scott Gottlieb noted the rise in South Dakota’s cases even as the rest of the country begins to level off.
All of these closures are putting a strain on our national food supply, but don’t fret. There is a lot of meat available. NPR noted a glut of some items like bacon because restaurants and hotels aren’t buying right now and these are being rerouted to traditional grocery stores. And while these big plants are closing, local butchers in places like Texas are seeing a surge in customers.
At the end of the day, what we are seeing in South Dakota is a giant flashing red warning about what can happen if people are forced back to work too soon without enough testing, without proper protective gear, and without social distancing measures. The situation is getting so bad that South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem may have to issue those stay-at-home orders after all.