Smithfield to shutter major hog plant against Matthew

A satellite view of Hurricane Matthew at 2:30 p.m. ET on Oct. 7, 2016. (NASA/NOAA GOES Project)

Chicago | Reuters — Smithfield Foods will shutter its hog processing facility, the world’s largest, on Saturday to protect employees in North Carolina from Hurricane Matthew, industry sources said on Friday, as farmers braced for the storm’s potential lashing.

Matthew has fueled concerns about the safety of livestock and farm workers along the coast from Florida through Georgia and into the Carolinas. It could be the first major hurricane to hit the U.S. head-on in more than a decade.

Smithfield, the world’s largest pork processor and hog producer, declined to comment on operations at its plant in Tar Heel, N.C. Farmers deliver hogs to the plant, where they are processed into pork chops and bacon.

John Prestage, whose family owns North Carolina-based Prestage Farms, which is contracted to sell hogs to Smithfield, said he expected processing to resume there on Monday after Saturday’s closure.

His company prepared for the storm by making sure its power generators were fuelled. In a bid to beat the storm, the company sped up deliveries of grains fed to its livestock, Prestage said.

Smithfield’s decision could mean farmers who deliver hogs to the plant will be paid less because the shutdown will create a backlog of the animals in the region, said Steve Meyer, pork analyst at Indiana-based EMI Analytics.

The plant has a daily slaughter capacity of 32,500 hogs, according to National Hog Farmer magazine.

The storm has also fuelled fears that hog manure could contaminate the environment.

Ahead of Matthew’s arrival, Smithfield, owned by China’s WH Group, has been lowering waste levels as needed in pits that hold hog manure on its farms, company spokeswoman Keira Lombardo said.

Smithfield has more than 10,000 employees in North Carolina, the country’s second-largest hog producing state.

In 1999, a deluge from Hurricane Floyd “created an environmental and public health crisis” for coastal North Carolina as the open-air pits from local hog farms spilled waste into waterways, according to the Environmental Working Group, a nonprofit research organization.

The group is concerned Matthew could also cause spillages, with at least 170 open-air manure pits located inside a flood plain in North Carolina that could be affected by the storm, said Alex Formuzis, a spokesman for the group.

At 2 p.m. ET, Matthew’s eye, or centre, was on a path that would likely take it near or over the coast of South Carolina on Saturday.

Reporting for Reuters by Theopolis Waters and Tom Polansek in Chicago.

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