The 850,000 birds currently being processed weekly in Jackson will now be processed at Carthage, bringing the total production at that facility to about 2.3 million weekly. The company says that new automated processing equipment in Carthage means that production to be accomplished with 1,800 people, compared to the 2,700 now employed in the two plants combined.
"This was an extremely difficult decision, largely because it involves team members, many of whom have been with the company a long time, and a great community that has always been supportive of our industry," said Tyson Group vice president of foodservice Bill Lovette. "In the long run, this decision will help us improve the return on invested capital for the chicken segment of our business."
Production at the Jackson plant will be curtailed in phases, with slaughter operations to be closed around 10 May 2004, and the remainder of the production, in de-boning, expected by the end of July 2004. A Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act notice was given to the affected team members and appropriate officials on 27 February.
When the automated processes are installed at the Carthage plant, approximately 120 positions will be eliminated primarily through attrition. Tyson will not be reducing the total number of birds processed in the area, so the company will continue to need the present live production capacity. The operations in Magee, Mississippi, including live production, hatcheries, and feed mill, will continue to remain open under this plan.
Tyson's decision follows the discovery last month of a virulent form of bird flu on a chicken farm in Texas, USA. The outbreak, originally classified by the USDA as low-risk, was identified through genetic testing yesterday morning as being 'highly pathogenic'.
The US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) enacted a nationwide federal response system to deal with the emergency, although it considers the chances of human infection low. Government officials have moved to reassure the public that the description of 'highly pathogenic' has to do with the level of threat to poultry, not humans.
Nonetheless, all exports from Texas have been halted and more than 6,600 birds were destroyed in Texas over the weekend. Russia, the largest importer of US chickens, has banned poultry from the state. Other countries were expected to follow suit.
This latest case of bird influenza turns yet more unwanted attention on the state of North America's meat production. A case of bird flu was discovered earlier this month on a Canadian poultry farm, and international authorities responded by banning all imports of poultry and related products from Canada. Both Chinese and Brazilian authorities said current consignments of Canadian poultry would either be returned or destroyed.