Why did Governor Kristi Noem fall from careful local-control neutrality to vocal anti-democracy support for the Wholestone Farms slaughterhouse in Sioux Falls? The Governor has said she’s worried that a public vote on capping the number of stinky meat factories in Sioux Falls could chase businesses away, but comments from Noem at the bottom of Trevor Mitchell’s story suggest she has decided she can use Wholestone Farms to drive Chinese-owned Smithfield Foods out of Sioux Falls:
But Noem said the new plant would not be a repeat of Smithfield’s current facility in Sioux Falls, taking several swipes at the company.
“Smithfield’s violated water quality issues for years and years, and dumps dirty water into the Big Sioux, and its a Chinese-owned company, and I got a not-great relationship with them during Covid because they wouldn’t work with me to help protect their people,” she said.
Noem added that she thinks there have been some improvements to Smithfield, and that she believes they’re trying to invest in and improve their existing building.
“But the fact is,” she said, “the new facility would be much more advanced. [It] wouldn’t have the water quality issues at all, would not have the smell issues that you see coming out of Smithfield” [Trevor Mitchell, “Noem Says Fight over Wholestone Is Driving Business out of South Dakota,” Sioux Falls Argus Leader, 2022.09.01].
Noem’s claim that she was fighting Smithfield to better protect their workers from coronavirus is, of course, hogwash. The Noem Administration was feeding Smithfield information to help them lobby against any tougher response from the CDC to the early outbreak of covid-19 at the Sioux Falls meatpacking plant. After Smithfield’s brief initial pause in production, which Noem delayed calling for based on her close conversations with Smithfield CEO Ken Sullivan, much to the public chagrin of local officials, Noem’s enduring response to the pandemic was the same as Smithfield’s, to put production first and public health last. Noem’s relationship with Smithfield when coronavirus broke out was hunky-dory.
Now it’s Noem crapping on her corporate comity, committing the remarkable sin of a Governor publicly denigrating a major employer as a menace to public health and environmental protection, issues that have never been at the top of her agenda. WHy on earth would Noem perform such anti-business spin?
Perhaps the endgame here is not to have two slaughterhouses in Sioux Falls. Perhaps the endgame is to use regionally owned Wholestone Farms (part of the Minnesota-originated Pipestone System of hog CAFOs and packing plants). Noem has been making noise about fighting Chinese ownership of American agricultural assets. She doesn’t really have any policies to oust China from practicing capitalism in South Dakota. Maybe she thinks she can drive them out of Sioux Falls with local competition. Instead of having to bring more immigrants to Sioux Falls and build more housing and services for the thousand-plus workers Wholestone Farms will need, they’ll just open with $5 an hour more for wages to hire the immigrants who are already in Sioux Falls away from Smithfield and sustain that pay advantage just long enough to make Smithfield shut down.
Or maybe—yeah, pure speculation, but we’re trying to make sense of really strange behavior from the Governor—Noem has gotten wind that Smithfield is looking to shut down its Sioux Falls plant the same way it’s shutting down its Farmer John slaughterhouse in Vernon, California. Maybe the Farmer John shutdown is part of a broader effort by the company to slim down its American footprint and lower costs. The closure of Smithfield would represent a major economic hit to Sioux Falls, so maybe Noem and her friends have decided they need Wholestone Farms not to help Sioux Falls grow but just to keep it from declining. They’ll then be able to tell a story of beating China and boosting American control of the food supply chain to paper over the loss of a major employer.
Let’s listen for more of Noem’s newfound interest in public health and environmental protection and see what other excuses she finds to attack one major Sioux Falls business to promote a competitor.