Jennie-O lays off more than 200 in Faribault; Move linked to bird flu, depleted turkey supply

Published 1:53 pm Tuesday, May 5, 2015

FARIBAULT — Jennie-O Turkey Store said Tuesday it will lay off 233 employees at its processing plant in the southern Minnesota city of Faribault because of bird flu outbreaks that have cut its turkey supply.
In a statement, the country’s second-largest turkey processor said the Faribault plant will switch to a single shift for the foreseeable future. But plant manager Randy Vergin said the layoffs will be temporary and that the company intends to recall everyone when supplies return to normal.



Gov. Mark Dayton told reporters he planned to discuss the situation with Jennie-O officials Tuesday. As of Tuesday, 82 turkey and chicken farms had been hit across Minnesota, costing them nearly 5.5 million birds.

“Yeah it’s a crisis absolutely,” Dayton said. “The scary thing is because we don’t know what’s causing it precisely, we don’t know what the duration is going to be, and we don’t know how many others are going to be affected.”

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The governor joined lawmakers for a turkey burger cookout during lunch on the state Capitol lawn to show their solidarity with producers and to remind consumers that turkey is safe to eat.

Rep. Jeanne Poppe (DFL-Austin) also joined in the support, stressing the safety of the food supply.

“First of all, I want to be very clear that this is not a public health issue and there is no food safety risk,” said Rep. Jeanne Poppe in a press release. “The Minnesota Department of Health has made it very clear, there is no risk to humans from avian flu.”

Willmar-based Jennie-O is a division of Austin-based Hormel Foods Corp. The outbreaks have hit more than 40 company-owned or contract farms in Minnesota and Wisconsin. Hormel said two weeks ago it will sell less turkey this year as a result and that it would provide more information when it reports its quarterly earnings May 20.



On Tuesday the House of Representatives passed a provision extending unemployment benefits for workers laid off due to the avian flu crisis.

The amendment, offered by Rep. Rick Hansen (DFL-South St. Paul), was added onto the omnibus agriculture finance bill which passed 111-15. The overall bill passed 110-18.

“This is a small step in helping the workers affected by this crisis,” said Rep. Rick Hansen (DFL – South St. Paul) in a press release Tuesday. “[Tuesday] we learned that the drastic drop in the Minnesota turkey supply – 5.4 million birds in a matter of weeks – has caused hundreds of layoffs. We are starting to see the ripples of this crisis grow and I am glad we can act now to provide some support for these Minnesotans.”