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Another Pork Plant Shuts Down Amid Coronavirus Outbreak

Tyson Foods, one of the biggest meat producers in the U.S., is suspending work at its pork processing plant in Waterloo, Iowa. Officials in Black Hawk County, where the plant is located, say at least 150 people with close connections to the plant have tested positive for the coronavirus, according to Iowa Public Radio.

The Waterloo plant, which employs 2,800 people, is just the latest U.S. meatpacking plant to shut down or reduce production. Other closed plants include a Smithfield Foods pork processing facility in Sioux Falls, S.D., which has been linked to over 900 infections, and a JBS beef plant in Greeley, Colo. Other plants are open but operating at a slower pace because many workers are absent.

However, another Tyson plant in Iowa resumed "limited operations" this week after suspending work two weeks ago. Tyson Foods says it is supplying workers at the Columbus Junction site with face masks to wear on the job, installing dividers between workspaces and providing more break-room space. And the company says employees at its Waterloo plant can return later this week to be tested for the coronavirus.

According to Steve Meyer, a pork industry economist with Kerns & Associates, about 25 percent of U.S. pork production is now either idled or working slowly. That leaves some hog farmers with no place to ship their market-ready animals.

Meyer says he is hearing from co-workers that some hog producers have begun euthanizing piglets because there is no space to house them. The reduced production, he says, also could soon result in shortages of pork at the grocery store.

"Some parts of the country won't get the pork they need," Meyer says.

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Dan Charles is NPR's food and agriculture correspondent.