April 18, 2020


Coronavirus hits Wayne Farms' poultry plants, feed mills



Wayne Farms has confirmed COVID-19 cases at nearly half of its 11 poultry processing plants and two of its 17 feed mills and hatcheries in the southeastern US, the company confirmed on Wednesday.


However, the Continental Grain Co. subsidiary declined to specify the number of employees who tested positive for the virus nor identify the affected sites, with a spokesperson saying the situation is "constantly changing."


"We are communicating directly with our workforce to make sure everyone is informed and proper procedures are being followed," a Wayne Farms' spokesperson said Wednesday.


With annual sales exceeding US$2 billion, the Oakwood, Georgia-based processor is the country's seventh-largest poultry producer and employs more than 9,000 people in five states: Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Mississippi and North Carolina.


Wayne Farms workers tested positive for the virus at two poultry facilities in Alabama, including one worker at the company's plant in Dothan and a "small number" in Jack.


The company spokesperson called "inaccurate" a Reuters report on Monday that cited an employee and union leader at its plant in Decatur, Alabama, as saying workers recently had to pay the company US$0.10 a day to buy masks.


"We are not charging employees for face masks. We are providing masks where we have them available, and are encouraging employees to provide/wear their own facial coverings until we have supplies of these masks available for all locations," the spokesperson said. "We are sourcing more masks now which will be available at all plants in the near future as soon as we procure them."


The company is among many businesses facing hurdles trying to operate amid the pandemic, with the task of deboning chickens and cutting up pork and beef typically low-paying work done in close quarters with others. Still, companies are adding protections such as intensified cleaning and taking the temperature of workers before they're allowed to enter facilities.


Plant closures are also adding to the woes of US hog farmers, who are finding the cost of feeding market-ready swine no longer feasible amid reduced demand from the backed-up processing facilities.