Despite Smithfield Foods recently deciding to close its Farmer John meatpacking plant in Vernon, California, animal-rights protesters continue to protest outside the plant.
The plant has been the center of activist protests in the past, as the Animal Alliance Network has put together vigils, speaking out against how piglets are being treated and brought up in confined situations until they are put onto trucks headed for slaughter.
As the Los Angeles Times reported in 2019, vigils were a common occurrence and had the approval of local law enforcement and the facility itself.
“They’re respectful of the city, and they’re respectful of Farmer John,” Officer Marissa Velez told the outlet at the time.
“During any demonstration, [we] work with local law enforcement and protest leaders to ensure the safety of the protesters, our employees, our animals, and the public,” Smithfield Foods said in a statement at the time. “Because of these coordinated efforts, the public demonstrations do not impact Farmer John’s production process or our ability to serve our customers and consumers.”
Last week, Smithfield Foods, which bought the plant in 2016, announced it will be closing it down, pointing to the difficulty of carrying out business in California.
In an announcement, the company said it will stop “harvest and processing operations in Vernon, California in early 2023 and, at the same time, align its hog production system by reducing its sow herd in its Western region.”
It is also planning to reduce its sow herd in Utah and is looking into strategies to leave farms in Arizona and California.
The company explicitly said it is “taking these steps due to the escalating cost of doing business in California.” It will also help the workers who are affected by the closure.
Jim Monroe, vice president of corporate affairs at Smithfield, told The Daily Wire in an email that “[t]he escalating cost of doing business” in California is why Smithfield is closing the Farmer John plant in the state. He said that “[u]tility costs, for example, are 3.5 times per head higher in [California] than they are in other Smithfield locations.”
He also pointed to Proposition 12 as an example of “the very challenging regulatory environment” in the state.
Voters in California approved Proposition 12 in 2018, which added specificities to the confinement of farm animals.
Monroe said the animal rights movements have not made it difficult to operate and activists did not play a role in the decision. He also said California’s push for vegan products has not impacted this decision.
“We are grateful to our team members in the Western region for their dedication and invaluable contributions to our mission. We are committed to providing financial and other transition assistance to employees impacted by this difficult decision,” Smithfield Chief Operating Officer Brady Stewart said.
The facility itself is known for its mural and artwork on the building, and what will happen to the structure is not yet known.
“We are exploring all our options,” Monroe told the Los Angeles Times last week. “Farmer John is alive and well, and we will be providing the great, healthy, nutritious products that Farmer John customers have come to expect,” but from a different area, he added.
The city, however, will feel the impacts.
“We regret that approximately 1,800 jobs will be eliminated when we close the facility early next year. We are offering our team members the option to relocation to other Smithfield locations and will provide financial and other transition assistance to impacted employees,” Monroe told The Daily Wire. “We are also offering generous incentives to encourage our team members to remain with us as we make this transition, including a $7,500 bonus for employees who remain with us through the close.”
“We are saddened,” City Manager Carlos Fandino said.
“Farmer John’s closure announcement represents another nail in California’s coffin, indicative of yet another prominent business set to leave the state,” Vernon Chamber of Commerce President Marisa Olguin said.
“My heart goes out to the workers who lost their jobs,” Agustín Álvarez, manager of a Mexican diner near the plant, said. “They come in, maybe about 50 or more a day, so it’s a big loss all around.”
An employee told the Times that the company had talked about an “all hands on deck” meeting, and workers were told not to talk to the press. He said Smithfield and the union had faced difficulties in their negotiations, noting, “I guess Smithfield thought it was easier to close the plant.”