South Dakota eyes Smithfield plant reopening as U.S. issues meatpacking guidance

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - South Dakota’s governor on Monday said she hopes Smithfield’s Sioux Falls pork processing plant can reopen soon, a day after U.S. labor regulators urged the meat industry to adopt certain measures to prevent the spread of coronavirus among workers.

“I’m hopeful that we can get it opened as soon as possible,” Kristi Noem told Fox News Channel in an interview. “They have some mitigation measures to put in place, but I think in a matter of days it could be opened, as long as everybody continues to work together and get it done.”

Smithfield Foods, the world’s biggest pork processor, has shut down several U.S. plants due to a rash of coronavirus cases among employees, raising concerns about the nation’s meat supply and worker safety.

Its cases in Sioux Falls triggered a so-called hot spot of U.S. coronavirus cases. Noem, a Republican, was among the few governors who did not issue stay-at-home orders.

On Sunday, the U.S. Labor Department’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration issued new interim guidelines with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that call for meat industry workers to be at least 6 feet apart, have their temperatures checked and wear face masks.

Tyson Foods Inc Chairman John Tyson, whose company has also had to close some facilities, on Sunday said in an open letter that closures could lead to meat shortages. “This means one thing - the food supply chain is vulnerable,” he wrote.

Reporting by Tim Ahmann; writing by Susan Heavey and Chizu Nomiyama; Editing by Dan Grebler