This week, meat company Smithfield closed its pig slaughterhouse in Sioux Falls, SD indefinitely after 230 of its workers tested positive for COVID-19—a disease thought to have originated from a wet animal market, not dissimilar from a slaughterhouse, in Wuhan, China late last year. The Smithfield plant produces four to five percent of the country’s supply of pig flesh. “The closure of this facility, combined with a growing list of other protein plants that have shuttered across our industry, is pushing our country perilously close to the edge in terms of our meat supply,” Smithfield CEO Kenneth Sullivan said. “It is impossible to keep our grocery stores stocked if our plants are not running. These facility closures will also have severe, perhaps disastrous, repercussions for many in the supply chain.”
In addition to Smithfield, National Beef has suspended operations at its Tama, IA slaughterhouse until April 20 and Tyson Foods indefinitely closed its pig slaughterhouse in Columbus Junction, IA, both due to workers becoming infected with COVID-19. Workers at other meat facilities have also become ill, including 130 workers who tested positive for COVID-19 at Cargill’s meat packaging plant near Hazleton, PA, and 17 positive workers at JBS’ beef slaughterhouse in Souderton, PA—the latter of which is closed until at least Thursday.
Meanwhile, the plant-based meat industry—which does not require employees to work shoulder-to-shoulder in often unsanitary conditions—continues to thrive and is consistently supplying food during the pandemic. Fresh vegan meat sales spiked by 206.4 percent and 279.8 percent in the first and second week of March, respectively, according to data recently published by research firm Neilsen. And while much of the financial industry is cautious during these unprecedented times, investments in plant-based meat companies continue to boom, as evidenced by the $500 million investment round closed by Impossible Foods in March and the $6 million round closed by Seattle-based vegan chicken nugget maker Rebellyous Foods earlier this month.