Growers may be forced to kill chickens after processor reports high absentee rate among workers

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Absenteeism at a Delaware poultry processing plant may lead to growers killing chickens that have been in short supply at supermarkets.

47 ABC TV station in Salisbury, citing a letter from Allen Harim, said the company will ask some growers to “depopulate” their flocks.

The brief letter cites declining employee attendance at its Sussex County processing plant that has led it to operate at 50 percent of capacity.

The company, in a Facebook post, noted that it had relaxed attendance policies. Federal guidelines call for workers to stay home if cough and fever symptoms appear. The company is also expanding the use of facemasks and temperature checks.Delmarva Poultry Industry, a trade group representing processors and the office of the Delaware Secretary of Agriculture have been sent Email requests for comment.

Catherine Bassett, spokesperson for Sussex County-based Mountaire, said the company has“no plans at this time to depopulate any chickens, but we understand that other companies are faced with difficult decisions during this crisis.”

Bassett said Montaire has taken multiple steps that include temperature checks and facemasks, as well as additional social distancing on production lines, along with plexiglass and other barriers wherever possible.

Other steps include relaxed attendance policies, an hourly sick pay program and a pay raise for all hourly employees.

“We have an amazing team at Mountaire Farms, that works together to produce the best quality products that our customers have come to expect from us. They have faced this challenge with strength and determination and we’re proud of them every day,” Bassett stated.

Depopulation is required because chickens have to be sent to the plant at a set stage in their growth, Otherwise, chickens will grow to the point that they cannot be processed and would also present challenges in housing the birds under humane conditions, the 47 ABC report indicated.

In February, prior to the spread of coronavirus, the Allen Harim plant was temporarily shut down for sanitation reasons.

The actions come at a time when chicken remains in short supply on supermarket shelves after some shoppers moved into a panic buying mode as coronavirus restrictions were announced. Limits have been placed on purchases at some stores.

Chicken packs are now available at many stores, but often occupy only a portion of refrigerated cases.

The meat processing industry is facing challenges that include workers contracting COVID-19.

To date, Delmarva poultry processors have seen a few cases.

By contrast, Pork industry giant Smithfield is closing its Sioux Falls, South Dakota plant indefinitely after the governor of the state and the Sioux Falls, Mayor recommended a two-week closing, due to an outbreak of the virus.

The 3,500-employee plant accounts for four to five percent of U.S. pork production. More than 200 workers have tested positive for the virus.

Click on the headline below for the story from Sioux Falls Business.

Smithfield to close Sioux Falls plant indefinitely

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