Letter: Hogs in the woodchipper
In a field near the farm where I was raised, an unimaginable event has taken place. Hogs, normally sold for processing were fed one-by-one into an industrial sized woodchipper, blended with mulch, and buried in the ground. The Chairman of the U.S. House Agriculture Committee, in an act of pathetic acquiescence to failure, came to Worthington and announced that the shuttered JBS plant could open only to euthanize hogs destined for the woodchipper. These events all transpired after the terrible Covid virus was spreading and triggered a total system failure in our meat production system, a failure that was probably preventable.
You may recall in April of 2020 South Dakota’s Health Secretary announced that they had done contact tracing with the then 80 confirmed Coronavirus cases at Smithfield in Sioux Falls and “at this point we do not feel that there is a risk to folks outside of the individuals impacted.” Anyone who has ever been inside a processing plant knows how ridiculous that statement was. In plants like Smithfield, you have hundreds of people working shoulder to shoulder for long hours in a plant where social distancing is not possible. Since no mitigating efforts were undertaken to control the virus, it should be no surprise the Smithfield plant became designated as the largest single-source of Covid cases in the country. It is reasonably foreseeable that an outbreak at the Smithfield plant could spread to the community and other processing plants. After all, the Sioux Falls plant shares workers with the Worthington plant, who share workers with the Storm Lake plant, who share workers with the Sioux City plant, etc. Now imagine if this outbreak had occurred while there was another processing plant equal in size and production capacity as the Smithfield plant operating within the city limits of Sioux Falls.
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It is fair to say that the livestock industry could use more processing capacity. But another plant the size of Smithfield is a bad idea and locating it within the city limits of Sioux Falls is a really bad idea. The meatpacking industry continues to cling to a decades old processing model that required large numbers of entry level, manual labor, high turnover jobs with little opportunity for advancement particularly for those with limited education and language skills. This heavy dependence on large numbers of workers continues to be the single point of failure in our meat productions system. These large plants are highly profitable for company owners while they often can negatively impact the communities where these plants are located. Having ‘all our processing eggs in one basket’ helped contribute to the likely millions of hogs euthanized during the Covid shutdowns.
I have heard from people who don’t live in Sioux Falls and are from out of state who think the new Wholestone Farms plant is a good idea. It would be nice if our elected officials would take the time to talk to Sioux Falls residents who have legitimate concerns about the impact this new plant could have on our community. With two plants operating at full capacity, we could see the weekly processing numbers exceed the total city population.
Meantime it appears our local chamber of commerce is on board with the new plant. Perhaps they will make us some promotional t-shirts. Here is a suggested slogan: “Welcome to Sioux Falls: We slaughter more hogs than people!” I’m sure our real estate agents will include that information in future brochures.