Tyson Foods will shut U.S. pork plant as more workers catch COVID-19

By Tom Polansek

CHICAGO (Reuters) – Tyson Foods Inc said on Thursday it will temporarily close an Iowa pork plant due to the coronavirus pandemic, a month after U.S. President Donald Trump ordered slaughterhouses to stay open to protect the country’s food supply.

Meat processors like Tyson Foods, WH Group’s Smithfield Foods and JBS USA temporarily closed about 20 slaughterhouses last month as workers fell ill with the new coronavirus, leading to shortages of certain products in grocery stores. Production remains lower than normal because of increased absenteeism and social distancing among employees.

An Iowa state official said 555 employees at Tyson’s Storm Lake plant tested positive for the virus, about 22% of the workforce.

Tyson will stop slaughtering hogs at the facility and finish processing the animals over the next two days, according to a statement.

It will resume operations next week following “additional deep cleaning and sanitizing of the entire facility,” the statement said. The closure is due partly to a delay in COVID-19 testing results and employee absences, according to Tyson.

Tyson said it conducted large-scale COVID-19 testing at the plant in northwestern Iowa and implemented safety measures to protect employees like requiring them to wear masks.

The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union called on the Trump administration and meat companies to do more to protect workers. The union reported more than 3,000 infections and 44 deaths among U.S. meatpacking workers, up from 35 deaths as of May 12.

“Too many workers are being sent back into meatpacking plants without adequate protections in place, reigniting more outbreaks in the plants and our communities,” said Nick Nemec, a South Dakota farmer who is part of an advocacy group working with the union.

The Storm Lake plant slaughters about 17,250 pigs a day when it is running at full capacity, according to industry data. That accounted for about 3.5% of U.S. production before the pandemic.

(Reporting by Tom Polansek in Chicago; Editing by Matthew Lewis and Stephen Coates)

Wendy’s menu runs short as virus hits U.S. beef supplies

(Reuters) – Wendy’s Co said on Tuesday its restaurants may face a shortage of many menu items, including hamburgers, as beef processors in the United States struggle to keep their plants open amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

U.S. meat manufacturers, including Tyson Foods Inc, have signaled disruptions to food supply as they are forced to shut many meat plants to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

“Beef suppliers across North America are currently facing production challenges. Because of this, some of our menu items may be in short supply from time to time at some restaurants in this current environment,” a Wendy’s spokesperson said.

The burger chain, known for its fresh-never-frozen patties, said it would continue to supply hamburgers to all of its restaurants, with deliveries two or three times a week.

Just before the virus outbreak in the United States, Wendy’s launched a new breakfast menu that included sausages, eggs, croissants, and a hamburger variation in the hopes of attracting more footfall in the morning, a crucial daypart for restaurateurs.

The pandemic has also led to rival McDonald’s Corp trimming its menu to serve drive-thru and delivery customers faster, while its dine-in operations remain shut. Chief Executive Officer Chris Kempczinski last week told analysts that the company has had no break in supply till date.

Several retailers including Kroger Co and Costco Wholesale Corp have also limited meat purchases per customers.

(Reporting by Nivedita Balu in Bengaluru; Editing by Ramakrishnan M.)

Tyson warns of U.S. meat shortages as coronavirus shuts livestock plants

By Karl Plume

CHICAGO (Reuters) – Millions of pounds of beef, pork and chicken will vanish from U.S. grocery stores as livestock and poultry processing plants have been shuttered by coronavirus outbreaks among workers, the chairman of Tyson Foods Inc said.

John Tyson warned that the U.S. “food supply chain is breaking” as a growing number of plant closures have left farmers with fewer options to market and process livestock.

Tyson Foods announced last week that it would shutter two pork processing plants, including its largest in the United States, and a beef facility to contain the spread of the virus.

Other major meat processors like JBS USA [JBS.UL] and Smithfield Foods have closed facilities in recent weeks as cases of COVID-19, the potentially lethal respiratory disease caused by the novel coronavirus, have soared among plant workers.

More than 5,000 U.S. meat and food-processing workers have been infected with or exposed to the virus, and 13 have died, the country’s largest meatpacking union said Thursday.

Companies say they are checking workers’ temperatures, working with local health officials and taking other steps to prevent the spread of the virus.

It is unclear how soon meat processing plants may reopen.

“There will be limited supply of our products available in grocery stores until we are able to reopen our facilities that are currently closed,” John Tyson said in a release published on Sunday.

“In addition to meat shortages, this is a serious food waste issue. Farmers across the nation simply will not have anywhere to sell their livestock to be processed, when they could have fed the nation,” he said.

Tyson shares are down more than 34% since the beginning of the year but have recovered from a more than four-year low hit in March.

(Reporting by Karl Plume in Chicago; editing by Jonathan Oatis)