FILE PHOTO: Workers walk out of Smithfield Foods pork plant as the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) continues, in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, U.S., April 16, 2020. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton/File Photo
July 13, 2021
By Tom Polansek
CHICAGO (Reuters) – Smithfield Foods, the world’s largest pork processor, will stop slaughtering pigs in America’s so-called ham capital, where the company was founded 85 years ago.
The end of slaughtering in Smithfield, Virginia, is the latest reconfiguration for the company’s namesake plant and follows a months-long internal review of its East Coast operations, Smithfield Foods said in a statement.
The company, owned by Hong Kong-listed WH Group Ltd, is shifting slaughtering to some of its 47 other U.S. facilities and spending $5 million to upgrade the Virginia plant to produce more packaged bacon, ham and other pork products, said Kiera Lombardo, chief administrative officer.
Smithfield, Virginia, is a tourist destination based on its history as Smithfield Foods’ hometown and boasts a museum featuring the world’s oldest ham.
The company retooled the plant in 2019 to ship hog carcasses to China, the world’s top pork consumer, and again last year to supply more pork to U.S. customers during the COVID-19 pandemic.
U.S. meat companies came under scrutiny during the pandemic as plant workers got sick and died, and slaughterhouse shutdowns highlighted supply-chain vulnerabilities.
Smithfield’s facility has the capacity to kill about 10,000 hogs a day but has been killing roughly 7,000 hogs to 7,500 hogs daily, said Steve Meyer, economist for consultancy Partners for Production Agriculture.
He said there are fewer hogs to slaughter along the eastern seaboard after farms closed.
“Taking that plant out probably doesn’t have much of an impact,” Meyer said. “It leaves us snug as a country as far as hog supply verses capacity this fall.”
One East Coast hog supplier, Maxwell Foods, said last year it would close and filed a breach of contract lawsuit against Smithfield Foods.
Smithfield Foods said employees will be reassigned to other positions at the Virginia plant, which has about 1,900 workers. A small number will have positions available at other facilities, according to the company.
(Reporting by Tom Polansek; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)