Hundreds of National Guard personnel are being activated in Iowa as coronavirus sweeps through meat-processing plants in a state that accounts for about a third of U.S. pork supply.
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds said 250 National Guard members have been moved to full-time federal duty status and could help with testing and contact tracing for workers at plants operated by Tyson Foods Inc. and National Beef Packing Co.
Activating Guard soldiers is the latest attempt to contain the disease, which has forced a growing number of slaughterhouses and meat-processing plants to slow or halt operations.
The disruptions are stoking concerns for eventual fresh-meat shortages in grocery stores as well leaving some farmers without a market for their animals. That’s pushing down prices for hogs and cattle, while making meat more expensive. Wholesale pork posted its biggest three-day gain in six years.
“At some point we’re going to have to be talking about euthanizing hogs, and we’re not that far from it,” Reynolds told reporters. “And that would be devastating, not only for the food supply but for the cost of food going forward.”
The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced a $19 billion bailout to help farmers hurt by the coronavirus outbreak, including $3 billion in purchases of meat and dairy products.
On Monday, JBS SA said it was closing a pork plant in Minnesota.
Gov. Tim Walz had raised the possibility that some workers there may have fallen ill from another outbreak at a Smithfield Foods Inc. pork plant in South Dakota.
“As we all learn more about coronavirus, it is clear that the disease is far more widespread across the U.S. and in our county than official estimates indicate based on limited testing,” Bob Krebs, president of JBS USA Pork, said in a statement. “We have taken aggressive actions to keep coronavirus out of our plant and keep this critical infrastructure facility operational.”