Tyson Foods said Thursday it is temporarily suspending the operations at a large beef packing and processing plant in Pasco, Wash., as it works with health officials to test employees for the coronavirus.
The company said it will test more than 1,400 workers at the plant as soon as possible and proceed with operations as deemed safe to do so. The Pasco facility processes enough beef daily to feed 4 million people and Tyson Foods is eager to be up and running when given the green light.
The Springdale-based meat giant said employees impacted from the temporary closure will be compensated while self-isolating in their homes as they wait on test results.
“We’ve taken both of our responsibilities to continue feeding the nation and keeping our team members safe and healthy seriously,” said Steve Stouffer, group president of Tyson Fresh Meats. “That’s why we’ve been focused on COVID-19 since January when we first formed a company coronavirus task force. We’ve since implemented numerous measures to protect workers and, at times, have gone beyond [Center for Disease Control and Prevention] guidance.”
Stouffer said the company is working with Washington health officials to mitigate risks through protective measures which have exceeded the guidelines of the CDC.
He said resuming operations will depend on several factors, including the outcome of testing for COVID-19 and how long it takes to get results back.
“Unfortunately, the closure will mean reduced food supplies and presents problems to farmers who have no place to take their livestock. It’s a complicated situation across the supply chain,” Stouffer said,
Tyson Foods indefinitely suspended operations at a pork plant this week in Waterloo, Iowa, and the company is also voluntarily going to close a pork facility in Logansport, Ind., while team members undergo testing.
The company’s other meat and poultry plants currently continue to operate, but some are running at reduced levels of production, either due to the planned implementation of additional worker safety precautions or worker absenteeism.
Agricultural expert Dave Amato who serves on the advisory committee of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission said this week packing plants across the U.S. are COVID-19 hotspots as 8% of the packing capacity has gone offline. He said most plants are operating at 50% to 75% or normal capacity, due to employees being absent.
Amato said the total meatpacking industry is operating at about 60% of normal capacity, which is putting pressure on the supply chain up and down the pike.