Iowa sends National Guard troops to assist with COVID-19 testing for workers at meat processing plants
Iowa Gov Kim Reynolds (pictured) announced on Monday that the state is activating 250 National Guard troops to assist with COVID-19 testing and contact tracking for workers in meat processing plants
Iowa is activating hundreds of National Guard troops to help test and track contact persons for workers at meat-processing plants in the state, which accounts for a third of the U.S. pork supply.
Gov Kim Reynolds announced on Monday that 250 National Guard members have been moved to full-time federal service status to help combat coronavirus outbreaks at factories of Tyson Foods Inc and National Beef Packing Co.
Reynolds said the troops will assist in providing test equipment to the factories, transport kits to laboratories, and possibly cleaning the facilities.
The unprecedented move comes after at least eight major factories in the United States have been forced to cut back or shut down entirely due to employee outbreaks.
The disruptions fuel fears of future meat shortages in supermarkets and also leave many farmers without a market for their animals.
Reynolds faced increasing calls to completely close packaging factories to stop outbreaks, but explained on Monday why that can’t happen.
“It’s important, because this is no ordinary facility where you close it for two weeks,” she told reporters.
“We are the largest pig farmer in the country. We provide a third of the country’s pork supply – 25 million a year.
“So if at some point we can’t get them through the process, we’ll have to talk about euthanizing pigs, and we’re not that far from it. And it will be devastating not only to the food supply, but also to the future cost of food. ‘
Members of the Iowa National Guard are sent to the factories of Tyson Foods Inc and National Beef Packing Co in the state. Images from Des Moines TV station KCCI show how troops unload test supplies from a truck
Reynolds said the troops will assist in supplying test equipment to the factories, transport kits to laboratories and possibly cleaning the facilities
The governor has refused to shut down a huge Tyson pork processing plan in Waterloo (photo), where dozens of workers tested positive for the virus and two died
The total number of COVID-19 cases in packaging plants in Iowa is unknown, as the governor and individual companies have not released full figures.
Meat processing workers are particularly susceptible to the virus because they are usually on a leash shoulder to shoulder and congregate in crowded dressing rooms and canteens.
The Iowa governing agency announced on Sunday that a total of 254 positive cases had been identified for surveillance tests for COVID-19 at National Beef and Tyson’s meat processing plants.
At least 117 cases were identified at a National Beef factory in Tama, which closed for cleaning earlier this month, but resumed operations on Monday.
Tyson closed a pig slaughterhouse in Columbus Junction the week of April 6 after more than 24 cases of COVID-19 involving workers in the facility.
A Prestage Foods factory in Eagle Grove reported 16 COVID-19 cases among its employees on Monday.
Reynolds has refused to shut down a huge Tyson pork processing plan in Waterloo, where dozens of workers tested positive for the virus and two died.
At least eight major factories in the United States have been forced to reduce or shut down operations due to employee outbreaks. The disturbances have led to a decrease in the number of animals slaughtered because there are not enough plants still in operation for farmers to send their livestock to
Chris Petersen is one of many American farmers struggling to find buyers for his livestock. Peterson is seen checking a Berkshire pig in a hutch on his farm near Clear Lake, Iowa
A Prestage Foods factory in Eagle Grove (pictured) reported 16 COVID-19 cases among its employees on Monday
Tyson closed a pig slaughterhouse in Columbus Junction (pictured) the week of April 6 after more than 24 cases of COVID-19 involving workers at the facility
The governor said the state is working with meat companies to test workers and prevent outbreaks from getting too big, even though it acknowledged that more “clusters of positive cases” are certain.
“These are also essential companies and an essential workforce,” she said. “Without them, people’s lives and our food supplies are affected. We must therefore ensure that they remain open in a safe and responsible manner. ‘
Workers advocates said Reynolds has little regard for a vulnerable workforce with many refugees and immigrants.
“It is nauseous,” said Democratic State Sen. Bill Dotzler of Waterloo, who has called for a temporary closure and greater protection for workers.
Hospitals and medical clinics in his city reported a wave of patients on Monday, many of whom were Tyson employees.
Midwestern states struggle to keep meat processing plants open as hundreds of workers test positive for COVID-19
Iowa is one of several Midwestern states working to maintain large meat packing plants, despite corona virus outbreaks that have made hundreds of workers sick and threaten to disrupt the nation’s supply of pork and beef.
In Minnesota, JBS USA said on Monday that it ceased operations of a large pork processing plant in Worthington after 33 workers tested positive for COVID-19.
“As we all learn more about coronavirus, it is clear that the disease is much more widespread in the United States and in our province than official estimates indicate from limited testing,” said Bob Krebs, president of JBS USA Pork, in a statement .
“We have taken aggressive measures to keep the coronavirus out of our facility and keep this critical infrastructure facility operational.”
That announcement came after Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz suggested the possibility that some factory workers – who employ more than 2,000 people and normally slaughter 20,000 pigs a day – may have contracted the virus from another outbreak at a Smithfield Foods pig factory. in South Dakota.
At one point, the Smithfield factory in Sioux Falls was the largest source of COVID-19 cases in the country, with more than 700 of the 3,700 infected workers.
South Dakota Gov Kristi Noem said she doesn’t think it will be difficult to meet federal requirements to reopen the shuttered facility.
JBS USA said on Monday it suspended operations at a large pork processing plant (photo) in Worthington, Minnesota, after 33 workers tested positive for COVID-19.
Health professionals conduct drive-up COVID-19 tests outside the Sanford Worthington Clinic in Worthington, Minnesota, on April 18. The state has dispatched a team to ensure safe conditions in the southwestern city, where several people have tested positive in a meat processing plant
Noem said the temporary shutdown of a Smithfield Foods pork factory that produces about five percent of the U.S. pork supply has already been “ devastating ” to regional producers.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s recommendations for safely reopening the Sioux Falls factory will be made public soon, Noem said.
The report will call for better social distance, greater use of face shields and other protective equipment, and better communication between the company and employees.
“There is nothing in this report that I think will be difficult to achieve,” Noem said. She declined to say how quickly it could be reopened.
Smithfield Foods, which is Chinese-owned, has said the closure has disrupted the supply chain indefinitely, forcing the closure of a facility in Martin City, Missouri.
Smithfield closed its pig processing plant at Sioux Falls in South Dokata after more than 700 of its workers became infected with COVID-19
South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem (pictured) said she doesn’t think it will be difficult to reopen the Smithfield plant under federal guidelines
Smithfield also closed a factory in Cudahy, Wisconsin, after employees tested positive for the virus.
In Wisconsin, too, a wave of infections has been linked to the JBS Packerland plant in Green Bay.
Health officials said they did not have an exact number of infections with the plant, but the number of infections in the surrounding county had increased by more than 100 over the weekend. The plant remains open.
In western Michigan, a JBS meat packing plant closed on weekends reopened Monday.
Sixty people there have been tested positive for the coronavirus, Lindsay Maunz, health spokeswoman for Allegan County, told WOOD-TV.
In Kansas, Governor Laura Kelly sent personal protective equipment and test supplies to meat-processing counties on Monday after Cargill and National Beef reported outbreaks among workers at facilities in the southwestern state.
Tyson also has plants there, but has not confirmed any infections.
Controlling those outbreaks is critical: factories in southwest Kansas are responsible for 25 to 30 percent of the U.S. beef processing.
“It would be a disaster if we had to stop, so we’re trying to do everything we can to keep those factories online,” Kelly told The Associated Press.
The United States Department of Agriculture announced a $ 19 billion bailout on Friday to help farmers affected by the corona virus outbreak, including $ 3 billion in purchases of meat and dairy products that will be sent to food banks.
Pig farmers in the US panic as the virus disrupts hopes for a great year
After protracted trade disputes and shortages of workers, American pig farmers were ready to finally grow this year with expectations of rising prices amid rising domestic and foreign demand.
Instead, restaurant closings due to the coronavirus have contributed to an estimated $ 5 billion in industrial losses, and nearly millions of overnight pigs on farms are now of little value.
Some farmers have resorted to piglet killing because declining sales mean that there is no room to keep additional animals in increasingly tight conditions.
“A producer recently described it to me as a snowball rolling downhill, and every extra glitch we have adds some sort of it and how fast and how big it will be when it finally hits,” said Mike Paustian, who edited 971. acres of corn and soybeans and sells 28,000 pigs a year near the small town of Walcott in eastern Iowa.
The coronavirus pandemic is hitting American pig farmers particularly hard as meat plants, eliminating their animal markets. Pictured: A Berkshire pig is in a pen on April 17 at the Chris Petersen Farm near Clear Lake, Iowa
COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, has caused problems for all meat producers, but pig farmers have been particularly hard hit.
They entered shaky financial conditions this spring as tariffs had drastically cut sales to China and Mexico.
Many operations have struggled to get enough workers, thanks in part to federal immigration policy.
Then demand plummeted as the virus forced the shutdown of restaurants, hotels, and other businesses that purchase about 25 percent of the pork, including nearly three-quarters of the U.S.-produced bacon.
The main problem could get worse, as additional giant slaughterhouses capable of handling more than 20,000 pigs a day had to be closed temporarily as the virus spread to workers.
The industry slaughters 10 to 12 million pigs per month.
While poultry farmers can slow production by not hatching baby chicks and keeping ranchers on the pasture for longer, pig farmers don’t have good options. Pigs are raised in barns with limited space and it takes time to stop the pig birth cycle.
“We are in crisis and need immediate government intervention to maintain an agricultural sector that is vital to the nation’s food supply,” said Howard Roth, a pig farmer from Wauzeka, Wisconsin, and president of the National Pork Producers Council, an industry trade group.
The group has asked the federal government to buy $ 1 billion of pork destined for restaurants and instead give it to food banks besieged by people who have lost their jobs because much of the economy has closed.
On Friday, the United States Department of Agriculture announced it would spend $ 3 billion to buy fresh produce, dairy, and meat sent to food banks.
Roth said the purchase will hopefully help move pork backup and raise pig prices.
The USDA also said it planned $ 1.6 billion in direct payments to pig farmers with limits of $ 250,000 per person.
Roth said the help was appreciated, but it wasn’t enough to solve their problems.
Farmers have also received government emergency exemptions to increase the number of pigs they are allowed to keep in stables above the normal allowable limits.
Still, farmers with no extra space are faced with the prospect of killing baby pigs they can’t afford.
Chris Petersen (pictured), a Northern Iowa farmer, breeds Berkshire pigs ‘the old fashioned way’ – in individual A-frame houses rather than large closed buildings. He deplores the loss of the independent farmers who marketed pigs at nearby purchasing stations that supplied the animals much closer to the farms to smaller packaging companies
“Unfortunately, euthanasia is a question that will come up on farms,” said Roth.
Paustian, the Eastern Iowa farmer, said the most frustrating part was the uncertainty about scheduling deliveries of pigs to meat producers not going through.
While most slaughterhouses have continued to operate, most factories are large and closing them is a major hardship for pig farmers operating in the region, he said.
With a factory closed about 40 miles away in Columbus Junction, Iowa, Paustian said farmers in his area send pigs to other factories in the state and Indiana.
‘Producers now use pin needles every day and nobody knows if they will get a lot out of them. Loads are scheduled and then canceled. It’s kind of a rollercoaster of emotion for producers right now, ”Paustian said.
Producers he knows have been able to sell about half of the pigs they would normally market. It’s enough to get by for a few weeks, but it’s not sustainable, Paustian said.
For many pork producers, the coronavirus pandemic may be the last straw, said Nick Giordano, vice president of the National Pork Producers Council.
‘We hear from many producers. They hold on for life, ”Giordano said.
In addition to seeking food bank purchases and direct payments to producers, the group wants to make farms eligible for a federal program for lending economic damage from disasters.
While they do not deny the problems of the industry, some people who keep pigs independently say that the coronavirus has revealed that the industry is too dependent on a few large international companies overseeing everything – from pig breeding to processing factories and even marketing and sales.
Chris Petersen, a Northern Iowa farmer, breeds Berkshire pigs ‘the old fashioned way’ – in individual A-frame houses rather than large closed buildings. He deplores the loss of the independent farmers who marketed pigs at nearby purchasing stations that supplied the animals to smaller packing stations much closer to the farms.
“It’s a very fragile system because everything has to work just right,” Petersen said.
By The Associated Press