Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Smithfield ham, where art thou?

The Associated Press reported today that Smithfield Foods plans to cut 1,800 jobs and close six factories as part of a restructuring.
Smithfield Foods Inc., based in Smithfield, Va., announced the closures and layoffs as part of a plan to consolidate and streamline its pork business. The company plans to save $125 million a year by 2011.
Plants slated for closure include: Smithfield Packing Co. plants in Smithfield, Va.; Plant City, Fla.; and Elon, N.C.; as well as a John Morrell plant in Great Bend, Kan.; a Farmland Foods plant in New Riegel, Ohio; and an Armour-Eckrich Meats factory in Hastings, Neb.

The report that this was excerpted from leaves out a few key facts, from what I've been able to determine.

First: There will still be a plant open in Smithfield; the operations from the Smithfield South plant will be transferred to the Smithfield North plant, according to the press release from the company today, and more than half the employees will be offered transfers there.

Second: The world-famous "Smithfield Ham" isn't one of the products produced in Smithfield. This may come as a shock to many people. In fact, according to the Virginia legislative site:

§ 3.1-867. (Repealed effective October 1, 2008) Smithfield hams defined.

Genuine Smithfield hams are hereby defined to be hams processed, treated, smoked, aged, cured by the long-cure, dry salt method of cure and aged for a minimum period of six months; such six-month period to commence when the green pork cut is first introduced to dry salt, all such salting, processing, treating, smoking, curing and aging to be done within the corporate limits of the town of Smithfield, Virginia.
(Code 1950, § 3-667; 1966, c. 702; 1968, c. 140.)

Needless to say, the company didn't issue a press release on the repeal. But I could not find any stories on the Web about the repeal, either. Chalk that up to the shrinking media presence -- newspapers may be trying to do more with less, but when it comes to being the watchdog of the goverment, less is simply less.

According to the Smithfield Foods site, dry curing of hams now is done in Elon, NC.
But today's press release was rather terse: "The Smithfield Packing Company plant in Elon, North Carolina, will close late in the summer and country ham production there will cease. About 160 employees will be affected."

So where does that leave the world-famous ham? There are three other companies in Smithfield that cure hams. I put in a call to the Smithfield Foods corporate communications office in New York City, but have not heard back from them.

The town of Smithfield must be reeling. From its Web site:
Nurtured by trade and commerce, Smithfield soon became a town of industry with four plants devoted to the art of curing the world famous "Smithfield Ham". Once a commercial center for shipping, Smithfield has evolved to host one of the area's largest meat-processing industries as well as the home to one of Hampton Roads' largest employers - Smithfield Foods, Inc. - a Fortune 500 company with its corporate headquarters in Smithfield. Smithfield was just recently named "one of the 50 best small southern towns".

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