Smithfield Foods to shut world's largest hog plant before Florence hits

CHICAGO (Reuters) - Smithfield Foods [SFII.UL], a unit of China’s WH Group, will shut down the world’s largest hog slaughter plant in Tar Heel, North Carolina, on Thursday and Friday due to Hurricane Florence, a company spokeswoman said on Tuesday.

The powerful storm was expected to hit North Carolina on Friday. The Tar Heel facility can slaughter 35,000 hogs per day and has 4,400 employees, Smithfield spokeswoman Diana Souder said in an email.

The company also plans to close its Clinton facility, which has a capacity of 10,600 hogs per day, Souder said.

North Carolina is the country’s second-biggest producer of hogs and the looming hurricane sent U.S. hog futures lower. Chicago Mercantile Exchange October lean hog futures plunged 2.7 percent and December tumbled 2.9 percent as the pork plant closures were expected to back up hog supplies.

Pork plants outside of the hurricane’s path are not capable of slaughtering the hogs that the shuttered plants would have processed.

Smithfield closed Tar Heel, which is about 70 miles from the coastal city of Wilmington, in 2016 during hurricane Matthew.

“This would be expected frankly for the safety of the workers,” said Andy Curliss, chief executive of the North Carolina Pork Council.

“Pigs were being moved off of farms today. They’ll probably get ‘em killed tonight,” he said.

Reporting by Michael Hirtzer, P.J. Huffstutter, Karl Plume and Tom Polansek; Writing by Caroline Stauffer; Editing by James Dalgleish