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Meat Packing Plants Become Hotbeds For Coronavirus

By Martha Rosenberg

Smithfield Foods, the nation's largest pork producer, has closed its Sioux Falls, South Dakota slaughterhouse after at least 80 workers tested positive for the COVID-19 virus.

By last week, four meat workers had died from the COVID-19 virus reported in the New York Times. Three workers from Tyson's poultry plant in Camilla, GA died as well as one worker at JBS USA's Greeley, CO slaughterhouse. Tyson had already closed its Columbus Junction, IA pork slaughterhouse, and JBS had already closed its Souderton, PA slaughterhouse reported the Wall Street Journal.

Pennsylvania-based Empire Kosher Poultry temporarily closed its doors because of COVID-19 threats, and the huge chicken producer, Sanderson Farms, asked employees at its Moultrie, GA slaughter operations to stay home. Slaughterhouses have also experienced walkouts, says the Wall Street Journal.

"Wet markets" in China where exotic wildlife is traded and eaten caused the current coronavirus pandemic. Dr. Anthony Fauci of the White House coronavirus task force says he is incredulous that wet markets are still open. "It boggles my mind how, when we have so many diseases that emanate out of that unusual human-animal interface, that we just don't shut it down," he said. "I don't know what else has to happen to get us to appreciate that."

Big Pork Has Bigger Threats Than A Lack Of Demand For Bacon

A corner of a package of Smithfield all natural ground pork

In addition to workers sick from COVID-19 and closing of kill lines, Big Pork is braced for the arrival of two other diseases from China that are currently as underreported as COVID-19 was — until it spread to every continent. Have you ever heard of African swine fever (ASF) and Severe Acute Diarrhea Syndrome Coronavirus (SADS)? You will.

By the end of last year, half of all of China's pigs and a quarter of the world's pigs had died from ASF, which has spread to Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, North Korea, the Philippines, eastern Europe, and Belgium. U.S. pig farmers had hoped to capitalize on China's disappearing pigs through exports, but fear they will get the disease too.

“It's not a question of whether ASF reaches American shores, but when,” wrote Thomas Parsons, professor at the School of Veterinary Medicine, and Scott Michael Moore, China Program Director at the University of Pennsylvania, in the Hill last year. "Should the virus enter the U.S., your future as a pork producer would radically change," warned Pork Business.

U.S. pork producers are also bracing for Severe Acute Diarrhea Syndrome — a coronavirus originating in China like COVID-19. They are already testing for it. In 2018, SADS had already killed 24,693 piglets on four Chinese farms.

SADS is similar to the porcine epidemic diarrhea virus (PEDv), which killed one-tenth of U.S. pigs in 2013 and 2014, but Big Pork was able to keep hidden from the public. The scourge was so bad the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) caught a Kentucky farm that lost 900 piglets within a two-day period feeding dead pigs to other pigs to induce "immunity" in survivors.

Whether wet markets or U.S. Big Pork, coronaviruses have become our Pandora's Box.

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