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Smithfield Foods closes meatpacking plant in California

VERNON, Calif. — Meatpacking giant Smithfield Foods said on Friday it would close its only California plant next year, citing the rising cost of doing business in the state.

The Farmer John meatpacking plant in Vernon, an industrial suburb south of Los Angeles, will close in February, with its 1,800 employees receiving severance and job placement assistance as well as bonuses for those who choose to stay at work until closing time, said Jim Monroe, vice president of corporate affairs.

Some workers, who average around $21 an hour, will also have the option of moving to other facilities owned by Virginia-based Smithfield Foods Inc..

The Vernon plant slaughters hogs and packages products such as ham and bacon. Some operations will be moved to other facilities in the Midwest, but the overall reduction in processing capacity is prompting Smithfield to reduce its sow herd in Utah. The company also said it was exploring ways to exit its farms in California and Arizona.

Monroe said operating costs in California are much higher than in other parts of the country, including taxes and the price of water, electricity and natural gas.

“Our utility costs in California are 3.5 times higher per capita than our other locations where they do the same type of work,” he said.

The shutdown is not expected to reduce supply or increase product costs, and Farmer John Products will still be sold in California, Monroe said.

“There will be no impact on our customers,” he said.

The Vernon factory has been the target of repeated protests from animal rights activists over its treatment of pigs. It was also hit hard during the COVID-19 pandemic, with some 300 employees exposed to infections in 2020. Several were hospitalized.

The California Division of Occupational Safety and Health fined Smithfield Foods about $60,000 for safety violations that exposed workers to infection.

Smithfield Foods was founded in Smithfield, Virginia in 1936 and, according to its website, provides more than 40,000 jobs in the United States. It was acquired in 2013 by Hong Kong-based WH Group.

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Post expires at 3:48pm on Tuesday June 21st, 2022