The chairman of Tyson Foods is warning that "millions of pounds of meat will disappear" from the national food supply chain as the coronavirus outbreak forces food processing plants to shutter.
"The food supply chain is breaking," John Tyson wrote in a full-page advertisement published Sunday in The New York Times, The Washington Post and the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.
"There will be limited supply of our products available in grocery stores until we are able to reopen our facilities that are currently closed," he wrote in the advertisement, which was also published as a blog post on the company's website.
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In recent weeks, the major poultry producer has suspended operations at plants across the country. The company halted operations Wednesday at an Iowa plant that is crucial to the nation's pork supply.
"In addition to meat shortages, this is a serious food waste issue. Farmers across the nation simply will not have anywhere to sell their livestock to be processed, when they could have fed the nation," John Tyson wrote.
"Millions of animals — chickens, pigs and cattle — will be depopulated because of the closure of our processing facilities," he added.
Four employees of Tyson's operations in rural southwest Georgia died this month after having become infected with the coronavirus, a company spokesman told The Associated Press.
Tyson has told NBC News that it is taking steps to protect its workers, including installing dividers between workers and relaxing its attendance policy to allow sick workers to stay home.
Tyson isn't the only company to shutter plants. Smithfield Foods, the world's largest pork processor, has temporarily closed plants across the country as some of its workers have become sickened. The company's CEO also warned of supply chain issues when it closed its Sioux Falls, South Dakota, plant after more than 400 employees tested positive for the coronavirus. Smithfield says the Sioux Falls plant is one of the largest pork processing facilities in the U.S.
"The closure of this facility, combined with a growing list of other protein plants that have shuttered across our industry, is pushing our country perilously close to the edge in terms of our meat supply," Kenneth Sullivan, Smithfield's president and CEO, said in a statement. "It is impossible to keep our grocery stores stocked if our plants are not running. These facility closures will also have severe, perhaps disastrous, repercussions for many in the supply chain, first and foremost our nation's livestock farmers. These farmers have nowhere to send their animals."
Smithfield has been accused in a lawsuit of not doing enough to protect workers at a crowded Missouri plant. Keira Lombardo, executive vice president of corporate affairs and compliance at Smithfield, has denied the allegations.
Cargill Inc., JBS USA and National Beef Packing Co. have also shut down plants in the U.S.
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The Agriculture Department addressed supply chain concerns in a statement Monday.
"The food supply chain is a critical industry in the United States and Secretary Perdue fully recognizes the need to keep workers and inspectors safe during the COVID-19 national emergency," the department said in the statement, referring to Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue.
"USDA recognizes and supports the efforts of private industry and companies to maintain operational status of their facilities while also maintaining the safety and health of their work force. USDA, together with the FDA and CDC, will continue to support a whole of America approach to ensure the food supply chain remains safe and secure."