Tyson Foods idling its largest pork plant amid Iowa outbreak

News

OSAGE, IA – JULY 25: Hogs are raised on the farm of Ted Fox on July 25, 2018 near Osage, Iowa. According to the Iowa Pork Producers Association, Iowa is the number one pork producing state in the U.S. and the top state for pork exports. The state sends about 50 million hogs to market each year and its pork exports totaled more than $1.1 billion in 2017. Pork producers in Iowa are bracing for the impact a trade war with China and Mexico may have on their bottom line going forward. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

This is an archived article and the information in the article may be outdated. Please look at the time stamp on the story to see when it was last updated.

IOWA CITY, Iowa – Tyson Foods suspended operations Wednesday at an Iowa plant that is critical to the nation’s pork supply but had been devastated by a growing coronavirus outbreak.

The company said that the indefinite closure of the Waterloo, Iowa, pork plant would deny a vital market to hog farmers and further disrupt the nation’s meat supply. Tyson had kept the facility, its largest pork plant, open in recent days over the objections of the mayor and local elected officials.

The plant can process about 19,500 hogs per day, accounting for nearly 4% of U.S. pork processing capacity, according to the National Pork Board.

More than 180 infections had been linked to the plant earlier this week and officials expect that number to dramatically rise. The company said that mass testing of its 2,800 workers would begin later this week.

In addition to those sick, hundreds of workers had stayed home from work out of fear of catching the virus. The plant had been running at reduced production levels as a result.

The announcement comes as employers have struggled to contain the virus in large meatpacking plants, where workers toil side by side on production lines and often share crowded locker rooms, cafeterias and rides to work.

Several other packing plants have temporarily closed across the country after large outbreaks, including a Smithfield Foods plant in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, and a JBS USA plant in Worthington, Minnesota. Others have stayed open or resumed production after brief pauses for worker testing and cleaning.

“Despite our continued efforts to keep our people safe while fulfilling our critical role of feeding American families, the combination of worker absenteeism, COVID-19 cases and community concerns has resulted in our decision to stop production,” Tyson Fresh Meats president Steve Stouffer said in a statement.

He warned that the closure would have “significant ramifications beyond our company” since it’s part of a supply chain that includes farmers, truckers, distributors and grocers.

Tyson said that workers would be compensated while the plant is closed and the timing of its reopening would depend on several factors, including the outcome of COVID-19 testing of workers.

The suspension came one day after the Black Hawk County Board of Health called on the company or Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds to temporarily close the plant. The board warned that its continued operation would exacerbate the spread of the virus through the county, where confirmed cases and hospitalizations have skyrocketed in recent days.

Waterloo Mayor Quentin Hart and scores of local officials had also called for a temporary shutdown, saying that the company was putting its workforce in danger. Iowa’s worker safety agency said Tuesday that it had begun an investigation at the plant.

The plant employs many blacks, Latinos and refugees, populations that comprise a hugely disproportionate share of Iowa’s coronavirus cases.

The governor and the Iowa Department of Public Health had rejected calls for a closure and said they were working with Tyson to keep the plant open, even at partial capacity.

Reynolds argued Monday that the economic harm caused by meat plant closures would outweigh the health risks to workers, warning that farmers with no markets may have to euthanize their pigs.

She said Tuesday that “people are gonna get” the virus in large workplaces and that most will experience only mild or no symptoms.

Earlier this week, Tyson resumed operations at its pork processing plant in Columbus Junction, Iowa. That plant had been shut down for two weeks due to an outbreak linked to hundreds of infections and the deaths of two workers.

FOX 2 Newsletters

Sign up for a newsletter from FOX 2 to get updates about news and weather. We offer daily headlines, breaking news, severe weather, and forecast emails.

About FOX 2 News

FOX 2 and KPLR 11 in St. Louis cover the news in Missouri and Illinois. There are over 68 hours of live news and local programming on-air each week. Our website and live video streams operate 24/7. Download our apps for alerts and follow us on social media for updates in your feed.

President Harry Truman said: “It is amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit.” That spirit is alive and well at Fox 2. Our teamwork is on display each and every day.

Our news slogan is: “Coverage You Can Count On.” We quite frankly are too busy to worry about who gets the credit. Our main concern is serving the viewer.

We go where the stories take us. Whether it be Washington, D.C when a Belleville man opened fire during a congressional baseball game practice or to Puerto Rico where local Ameren crews restored power after more than 5 months in the dark.

Coverage You Can Count On means “Waking up your Day” with our top-rated morning show. From 4:00 am-10:00 am we are leading the way with breaking news. But our early morning crew also knows how to have some fun! Our strong commitment to the communities we serve is highlighted with our Friday neighborhood shows.

Our investigative unit consists of three reporters. Elliott Davis focuses on government waste, Chris Hayes is our investigative reporter, and Mike Colombo is our consumer reporter. They work in unison with the news department by sharing resources and ideas.

We continue to cover breaking news aggressively and relied on our seasoned journalists to make a difference with the stories we covered. The shooting of Arnold Police Officer Ryan O’Connor is just one example of that. Jasmine Huda was the only reporter who had exclusive access to the O’Connor family during his amazing rehabilitation in Colorado.

Last, but certainly not least, FOX 2 and KPLR 11 are committed to covering local politics. We host debates among candidates and have the most extensive presidential election coverage. Our commitment to politics isn’t just during an election year. We produce two political shows that air every weekend.

Popular

Latest News

More News