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Experts worry US food supply may be at risk because of plant closures due to coronavirus

Pork plants forced to close due to workers testing positive for COVID-19

Industries all over the world are struggling because of the coronavirus. The latest here in the U.S.: the meat industry, with the closure of multiple pork processing plants this month

Smithfield Foods has closed its plant in Sioux Falls, after at least 200 people who work there, tested positive for COVID-19.

That plant alone represents 4-5% of America’s pork production, about 18 million servings a day, Smithfield’s CEO says. He adds, the closures are quote “pushing our country perilously close to the edge in terms of our meat supply.”

At least two other pork plants closed this month, in Iowa and Pennsylvania, and that's not all.

“There's been another big plant in Greeley, Colorado that is a big beef slaughter plant that has had to shut down temporarily, and there have been poultry plants around the country that have been forced to close temporarily because of COVID-19,” Tony Corbo with Food and Water Watch said. "So, there are going to be shortages, temporary shortages, in the meat supply."

A representative of America's meat industry tells CNN, if there are more closures ahead that impact the supply chain, the shortages could get worse. But she says for now, there's plenty of meat in reserve.

"There are plants across the country that are operating,” Julie Anna Potts from American Meat Institute, Via Cisco. “We have lots of food in storage lots of meat in storage, pork, beef, poultry, in storage, and on our way to grocery stores."

Other sectors of the food supply chain are also under stress, which could cause shortages, from growers and producers, to migrant pickers and laborers, to truckers and distributors.

"They count the farmer, but there's a whole bunch of people behind us, supporting us," Greg Burris of Burris Farm Market said.

This Alabama farmer says the supply chain is very unpredictable, but he is committed to growing.

"I may overproduce, and it may get thrown away, it may get sold at the market,” Burris said. “It's hard to tell, everything is up in the air right now."

Some producers are discarding produce like milk and eggs that are geared to sell in bulk to restaurants and cafeterias who aren't buying.

A dairy in Idaho was dumping down the drain 4000 gallons of milk they can't sell to restaurants.

Even as Americans elsewhere are lining up by the hundreds at food banks.

Grocery stores are another sector of the food chain, at high risk tonight.

If workers interacting with customers every day get sick, they are unable to man the register or worse.

Although it's unclear how she got it, cashier Vitalina Williams died of coronavirus this month, as did 27-year-old Leilani Jordan, a supermarket clerk near D.C.

One food industry advocate believes not enough has been done overall- to protect grocery-store workers.

"They should have been given protective equipment to begin with, where possible to practice social distancing, and to give them, to pay them to come to work, giving them hazardous duty pay in order to show up to work during this crisis," Corbo said.

A food industry watchdog representative, Tony Corbo, was also critical of the meat industry, saying the people who run those packing plants haven't taken enough steps to make sure the employees did enough social-disancing on the job, according to CNN.

A meat industry representative completely refuted that, telling CNN they do have adequate protection for the employees and that they take extraordinary steps to enforce social distancing.

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