AMERICAN meat processors have been thrown into chaos by the ongoing threat presented by the coronavirus pandemic.

Plants have been closed as large numbers of employees test positive for covid-19, with some reporting front-line staff fatalities related to the virus. There is no suggestion those fatalities are linked with their employers.

See also: Red Tractor to roll out remote inspections

The US has been hard hit by covid-19, with more than 40,000 deaths and nearly 800,000 cases confirmed as of 21 April.

Line speeds

Many poultry plants have had line speed increases approved to increase efficiency, a move that has proven controversial with animal welfare and food safety experts in the past.

Major pork processing facilities have closed their doors after on-site infections spiralled out of control.

Smithfield shut down one of the largest pork facilities in the country after more than 600 people tested positive for covid 19. The South Dakota plant represents 4-5% of national output, the Guardian reports.

And JBS SA temporarily closed a pork facility in Worthington, Minnesota, after an outbreak on the site.

Lower capacity

Bloomberg estimated that the pork plant closures across the country meant more than 10% of production capacity is missing.

Tyson Foods said four workers at its poultry plant in Camilla, Georgia, had died after contracting the virus.

The firm’s Hector Gozalez said: “We’re heartbroken over the loss of four team members from our family at Camilla, Georgia. The COVID-19 pandemic has devastated communities in southern Georgia.”

Social distancing

Tyson has put in place a range of measures on its plants, including social distancing, as well as taking employee’s temperatures.

National Chicken Council President Mike Brown said: “Since the US government has deemed food manufacturing as critical infrastructure, we treat very seriously our responsibility to keep workers safe while providing protein for families.

“The essential critical industries working to care for, feed, and protect Americans are selflessly serving the nation by showing up to work during this time of crisis.

Food security

“While the work of our public health professionals, first responders, and public safety employees is unquestioned, we must also adequately recognize the service of food industry workers who protect our food security.

“NCC is urging Congress to support food industry workers in any aid package that might be considered when Congress returns in late April.”