Tyson Foods said Wednesday it is suspending operations
indefinitely at its pork processing plant in Waterloo, Iowa.
The Arkansas company said it will offer COVID-19 testing to all
2,800 employees at the plant while it's closed.
The decision to close Tyson's largest pork processing facility
came after employees at the company's plants in Waterloo and
Dakota City, Nebraska, died from COVID-19.
Chris Schwartz, a Black Hawk County supervisor, said the closure
is "good news for the employees and for the health and well-
being of the entire community."
Schwartz said he hoped the action came "soon enough" to prevent
more workers from becoming ill.
More than 180 infections were confirmed among plant workers this
week, The Associated Press reported, and officials expect that
number to rise.
Gov. Kim Reynolds said the state will help with employee
testing, which she expected to begin Friday.
Tyson said the Waterloo plant was running at reduced levels of
production because of worker absenteeism. A decision to restart
the plant depends on the outcome of the testing, among other
factors, the company said.
The Board of Health in Black Hawk County passed a resolution
Tuesday that called for the plant to close. As of Wednesday, the
county had a total of 379 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and two
deaths. The board's resolution called the plant the "largest
single source" of infection in the county.
Schwartz said he believed temporarily closing the plant and
conducting widespread testing of workers, along with taking
added safety precautions, could prevent a larger disruption of
the nation's food supply chain.
Tyson's top concern has been for the safety of employees, said
Steve Stouffer, group president of Tyson Fresh Meats, and that
was "the reason we’ve implemented numerous safety measures
during this challenging and unprecedented time.”
“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,"
Stouffer said in a statement.
Tyson said employees will be paid while the plant is closed.
Stouffer warned that closing the plant, which can process about
19,500 hogs per day – about 4% of the U.S. pork processing
capacity – would have "significant ramifications" beyond the
Smithfield, a meatpacking company, closed a larger processing
plant in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, near the Iowa border,
because of a COVID-19 outbreak.
The Waterloo plant "is part of a larger supply chain that
includes hundreds of independent farmers, truckers, distributors
and customers, including grocers,” Stouffer said.
“It means the loss of a vital market outlet for farmers and
further contributes to the disruption of the nation’s pork
supply,” he said.
Iowa experts warned this week that pork producers face the
possibility of euthanizing thousands of pigs. The nation has
lost 25% of its processing capacity as meatpacking plants slowed
or closed during COVID-19.
Donnelle Eller covers agriculture, the environment and energy
for the Register. Reach her at email@example.com or 515-