The Future of Meatpacking Is Apparent

The Lempert Report
May 08, 2020

Smithfield Foods closed its pork processing plant in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, on April 14 due to concerns about COVID-19 spread at the facility.

The company says that the plant provides around 4% to 5% of pork produced for U.S. consumers and employs 3,700 people.

South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem wrote to Ken Sullivan Smithfield President/CEO, and reported that 54% of the 438 confirmed coronavirus cases in Minnehaha County are linked to the Smithfield meat plant. Smithfield has agreed to close the plant indefinitely.

Cargill, Tyson and JBS have also closed meat-processing facilities in different parts of the nation.

Marketplace reports that Hormel and Tyson Foods are offering bonuses to workers who stay on the job. Tyson has offered $60 million in “thank you” bonuses to 116,000 frontline workers and waived the five consecutive day waiting period for short-term disability benefits, allowing workers to receive pay while they’re sick. The company said “workers can qualify for a one-time $500 bonus, payable during the first week of July.”

This should not be about money. According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, the average meat packer in 2018 made $28,450 per year — or around $13.50 per hour; so these increases and bonuses are very attractive to these workers – but it’s not enough to risk one’s life. No amount should be.

If you’ve ever been in a meat packing facility, and I grew up visiting them with my dad, and have continued to – these are facilities that have been designed many decades ago and rely on workers to be working within inches of each other. Not the best environment under any circumstances, yet alone to control this pandemic.

It’s time to start over.

With robotics technology rapidly expanding, it’s time to build meat processing facilities that are based on touchless technologies. Yes, I’ll come under harsh criticism calling me heartless for these tens of thousands of people’s jobs. I’m concerned for their, and my health, and frankly we should have long ago started efforts to retain these workers for jobs that are relevant in 2020 and beyond.

After all Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle WAS published in 1906; but now we have 21st century solutions.