Three meat plants shut in Iowa and Pennsylvania as coronavirus outbreak spreads

CHICAGO (Reuters) - Major U.S. meat companies said on Monday they shut three facilities that produce pork and beef in Iowa and Pennsylvania in the latest disruption to the country’s food supply chain from the coronavirus outbreak.

Reduced meat output from the shutdowns threatens to tighten supplies of certain products at a time when demand is rising at grocery stores as the country battles COVID-19, the respiratory illness caused by the novel coronavirus.

Tyson Foods Inc shut a hog slaughterhouse in Columbus Junction, Iowa, for the week after more than 24 cases of COVID-19 involving employees at the facility, according to a statement. The company said it would divert hogs to other pork plants in an attempt to minimize the disruption from the closure.

The facility kills about 10,100 pigs a day, or about 2% of the country’s total slaughtering capacity, said Steve Meyer, economist for U.S. commodity firm Kerns and Associates.

National Beef Packing Co [NBEEF.UL] said it suspended cattle slaughtering this week at a plant in Tama, Iowa, for a cleaning that was previously scheduled for later this month.

“These are unprecedented times for our industry,” National Beef said in a statement.

JBS USA said in a statement it halted operations at a beef plant in Souderton, Pennsylvania, and would restart production on April 16. It added it decided to shut the facility to make sure it had “the appropriate management leadership in place before resuming operations.”

JBS, a subsidiary of Brazil-based JBS SA, reduced operations at the facility last week after senior managers suffered flu-like symptoms.

Reporting by Tom Polansek; Editing by Paul Simao and Peter Cooney