COVID outbreak confirmed at Tyson - Storm Lake

Thursday, May 28, 2020

DES MOINES — A confirmed outbreak at a Tyson pork processing plant in Storm Lake is the latest hit to an industry which has seen numerous outbreaks in facilities across the state and beyond. Buena Vista County, where Storm Lake is located, has surpassed 700 positive cases with more than 400 of those being announced on May 26.

The threshold to be considered an outbreak at a facility is 10 percent of the workforce. Sarah Reisetter of the Iowa Department of Public Health confirmed the outbreak at Thursday’s press conference with Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds after questions were raised the day before once the large spike of cases in the county were announced.

“We have confirmed an outbreak at the Tyson pork processing plant in Storm Lake where 555 of the 2,517 employees tested have had a positive result reported so far,” Reisetter said.

Temporary closures and reduced capacity at these meat processing facilities due to the COVID-19 pandemic have caused a strain for producers who have seen backlogs hold up animals which are ready to be processed at these facilities. Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Mike Naig addressed some of the issues faced by farm producers as meat processing facilities face reduced capacity.

“Our farmers and our ag businesses and really everyone throughout the supply chain are managing through an unprecedented disruption to the marketplace,” Naig said. “As the number of COVID-19 cases at large meatpacking facilities has increased, we’ve seen some of those facilities have to shut down and nearly all of them have significantly reduced their processing capacity.”

Naig said the low point for capacity came in early May when facilities were running about 50,000 pigs short per day, but capacity has still only returned to about 80 percent of normal. Approximately 600,000 pigs were backed up on Iowa farms in mid-May that under normal circumstances would have already been harvested according to a report from Iowa State University. This backlog has led to some hogs having to be euthanized.

“Producers are already having to and will continue to have to look at the very difficult and emotional decision to euthanize their animals to prevent animal welfare issues,” Naig said. “Euthanasia is always the last resort.”

Naig announced a plan that would help pork producers recoup some of the losses from disposing of euthanized hogs which were unable to make it to a processing facility. Still, this program would not provide any funding for any market losses for hogs that producers were unable to sell. At least three rounds of funding over the next several weeks will be dedicated to the program. More information on the Iowa Disposal Assistance Program can be found at iowaagriculture.gov/idap.

While producers are being hurt by the reduced capacity at meat processing facilities, consumers are also feeling the pinch at the grocery store.

“This is devastating for Iowa farmers and producers and it will be felt at all levels,” Reynolds said. “Consumers are already seeing it at the grocery stores with higher prices of meats and limits on how much they can buy which disproportionately affects lower income Iowans.”

As some Iowans may be facing food security issues, it was announced an additional $3.5 million in funding will be directed towards food banks and other food assistance programs across the state. Lt. Governor Adam Gregg, the chair of the Feeding Iowans Task Force, provided an update on what they have been doing to help Iowans.

“We’re very blessed to have agriculture, livestock production and food processing as key components of our state’s economy,” Gregg said. “We’ve been working on ways to leverage that fact to ensure that hungry Iowans have access to food. The funding Governor Reynolds is dedicating today allows us to do that in multiple ways.”

Some of the funding will go towards the Pass the Pork program which will receive an additional $500,000 to expand that concept to not only pork, but other food products including beef. The state will also make bulk purchases of certain food supplies which will be distributed to food banks with $1 million allocated to that program. Another $1 million in grants will be distributed to food banks with the same amount also going towards the Double Up Food Bucks program which matches SNAP dollars to be used to purchase fresh fruits and vegetables at participating farmers markets and grocery stores.

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