As he finally takes action to protect his Sioux Falls workforce and the entire city from the coronavirus that has broken out in his evidently unsanitary Sioux Falls plant, Smithfield Foods CEO Ken Sullivan sounds like he’s trying to raise fears about food security to justify a swift reopening:
Smithfield Foods is shutting down its Sioux Falls, S.D. facility, one of the largest pork processing facilities in the country, “until further notice.” The plant processes four to five percent of pork in the U.S., amounting to about 130 million servings per week.
“Smithfield will resume operations in Sioux Falls once further direction is received from local, state and federal officials,” the company said in a press release.
…Smithfield President and CEO Kenneth M. Sullivan said in a statement that the closure of this and other protein plants is “pushing our country perilously close to the edge in terms of our meat supply.”
“It is impossible to keep our grocery stores stocked if our plants are not running,” he said. “These facility closures will also have severe, perhaps disastrous, repercussions for many in the supply chain, first and foremost our nation’s livestock farmers.”
…“We have continued to run our facilities for one reason: to sustain our nation’s food supply during this pandemic,” he said. “We believe it is our obligation to help feed the country, now more than ever. We have a stark choice as a nation: we are either going to produce food or not, even in the face of COVID-19” [Justine Coleman, “Top Pork Producer Shutting SD Plan Indefinitely Amid Pandemic,” The Hill, 2020.04.12].
The repercussions for livestock farmers might actually be positive: instead of selling to the giant packers who are screwing them out of profits, the men and women who actually raise our hogs and chickens and cattle might realize they can cut out the corporate middlemen and make money selling their meat locally. That’s what Havana, North Dakota, rancher Lacey Block is advocating with her Ranchers Rebellion Beef Company:
“The traditional way beef is brought to the table is not working anymore; someone is making a whole lot of money and it isn’t the cow/calf guys, the backgrounders or the feedlot operators,” she explained.
…”For those who wanted beef directly off the farm, we’d haul the animal to the locker plant and then sell quarters. I had a good response from people.”
…This process allows Block to pay producers more on the backside with a reasonable price for consumers. She hopes to market beef from 100 critters through coolers and online this year.
…Production started the first part of March and meat is now available at the stores and through mail-order or delivery. The meat is hormone-free, from pasture-raised, grain-finished yearlings. The biggest obstacle is the kill capacity at the local facilities. But everything is in line and moving ahead.
She sells by-the-pound packages processed at a U.S. Department of Agriculture plant and distributed to freezers she owns in retail outlets such as Cliff’s One-Stop in Britton; Kwik Stop in Forman, N.C.; One Stop in Gwinner, N.D. and recently added Buck’s C-store on Interstate 29 in Peever [Connie Sieh Groop, “Rancher’s Rebellion Aims to Help Producers Get More for Their Meat,” Aberdeen American News, 2020.04.13].
Governor Kristi Noem cloaks her support for the Earl Butz ag-industrial complex’s crushing of small independent farmers in talk about “food security.” Maybe having 5% of our nation’s pork production concentrated in one plant that can be taken out by a virus outbreak or some other disaster isn’t such a good idea for food security. Maybe instead of handing out six-figure tax breaks to the giant CAFOs that feed Smithfield, the state should consider throwing its financial support behind the small ranchers and farmers who could feed their neighbors more resiliently amidst a pandemic or other breakdowns in the global corporate supply chain.
Related Reading: See Civil Eats’ article on how coronavirus could revive the Community-Supported Agriculture model:
As Americans are told to stay put, more are cooking at home and looking for healthy options to get through the coronavirus pandemic. Some people are still visiting farmers’ markets, but many fear the long lines and potentially contaminated carts at grocery stores. To the rescue are small-scale local farmers, ready to bring fresh food to their neighborhoods. From Vermont to Kentucky to Southern California, farms with existing CSA are seeing a massive increase in their memberships. Some farms have also started new ones.
Even CSA farms in Northern California, which already had thousands of members, have seen a boom; nearly all now have now have waitlists. The farmers at Terra Firma Farm in Winters, California, say they have never added so many additional box deliveries in such a short period of time. Rancho Gordo, an heirloom bean company in Napa that sells some of its product through Eatwell, saw 1,700 orders in one Saturday [Hannah Ricker and Mara Kardas-Nelson, “Community Supported Agriculture Is Surging Amid the Pandemic,” Civil Eats, 2020.04.09].
Hey hey, ho ho, corporate food has got to go….