We're most familiar with the situation at the Smithfield Foods plant in Sioux Falls, but other meat processing plants around the country have been shut down due to coronavirus outbreaks.
JBS Pork Processing in Worthington, Minn., and Tyson Fresh Foods in Waterloo, Iowa, have also closed indefinitely. Together, the three plants account for about 15% of the nation's pork production.
There is a substantial ripple effect of these huge plants closing, in both directions. Hog farmers who supply the plants now have fewer -- and usually farther -- places to go, and some have euthanized healthy pigs. On the other side, stores that have empty meat shelves have lower sales.
There are others affected.
Meanwhile, the Centers for Disease Control, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and other agencies are working on plans to return the plants to production. They include sanitization, social distancing, personal protective equipment, enhanced testing and more.
While company officials work on those, we'd urge them to keep in mind the possibility of other improvements they could make. There may be new innovations for processing equipment, new modern procedures for cutting, new methods for receiving hogs and shipping finished goods.
We also believe there are lean (no pun intended) manufacturing processes that could increase efficiency. There may be better human resource practices that could improve safety or morale.
The focus of safely returning the plants to operation is the priority now. But the creative thinking that goes into that process could very well yield other improvements that would make the plants much better in the long term.
-- Jon M. Hunter