MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Comfrey Farm Prime Pork in Windom is just the latest food processing plant closed by the coronavirus pandemic.
After several workers there tested positive for the virus, the plant is closed for a thorough disinfecting. Management hopes the work will be completed in time for the plant to reopen for production on Friday.
“Every day that goes by and more is not done to protect these workers, the more these workers and nation’s food supply is in jeopardy,” Mark Lauritsen, the Vice President of Meatpacking for the United Food and Commercial Workers International said.
To explain the dire situation in processing plants, United Food and Commercial Workers union hosted a national press call.
UFCW International President, Marc Perrone said, “We’ve documented 10 deaths in meat packing, three in food processing and 5,000 union members either sick or exposed to the virus.”
The union is demanding the White House Task Force institute better protection of workers. UFCW wants it to force companies to slow production, institute social distancing of workers and supply all employees with proper personal protection equipment, such as N-95 respirators.
Achut Deng is among hundreds of employees who became ill at the now closed Smithfield Pork processing plant in Sioux Falls, S.D.
She is angry at some who suggest the plant’s largely immigrant workforce shares some responsibility for the spread of the virus.
“I got it as a single mom, living at home with my three kids. It had nothing to do with my being an immigrant, where did I get it?” Deng said.
Since then hundreds more have tested positive for COVID-19 at dozens of Midwestern meat processing plants – including at least four facilities in Minnesota.
“Help us stay safe so we can do our job helping feed America,” Cargill meat processing plant worker Itzel Goytia pleaded.
With plants closing and farmers unable to hold onto a growing number of hogs and poultry, some producers have little choice but to euthanize their livestock and poultry. They are simply running out of space and can’t sufficiently slow the animal’s growth.
When hogs grow too large, the processing plants don’t want them. And donating such a huge volume of animals to food banks is next to impossible.
“We’re having a problem getting to food banks because they have no refrigeration there. So what’s happening is they’re destroying and it’s a terrible thing,” Perrone said.
And a terrible waste of both food and farmer income.
UFCW also represents more than 9,000 grocery store employees in Minnesota.
It says grocers are doing a much better job keeping their workers and shoppers safe. It is believed that fewer than a dozen store workers have tested positive for COVID-19.