LOS ANGELES - The Farmer John meat-packing plant in Vernon -- a frequent target of protests by animal-rights advocates critical of the treatment of pigs at the facility -- will close next year, with its Virginia- based owner Friday citing the rising costs of doing business in California.
According to Smithfield Foods, the plant will close in early 2023. The company is also exploring "strategic options to exit its farms in Arizona and California."
"Smithfield harvests only company-owned hogs in Vernon," according to the firm. "Smithfield will service customers in California with its Farmer John brand and other brands and products from existing facilities in the Midwest.
According to the company, they're leaving California due to escalating cost of doing business in the state.
"We look at our costs on a per hog, per head basis, and the cost to process hogs in our Vernon facility, I can’t give you a precise figure but it is exorbitantly higher than the cost to process those hogs in other facilities where we operate," said Smithfield Foods corporate affairs VP Jim Monroe.
Farmer John employs about 2,000 people at the Vernon plant. Company officials said it is providing "transition assistance" to employees at the plant, including "relocation options" to other Smithfield facilities and farms.
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"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 in a statement.
John Grant, president of UFCW 770, the union representing union meat- packers at the plant, said he hopes another operator takes over the operation.
"Despite a strong, mutually beneficial relationship with Farmer John employees and their union, Smithfield has decided to exit operations in California," Grant said in a statement. "A fair agreement that compensates their workers until next year has been reached, and we hope that another operator will take advantage of the highly trained and stable workforce that makes the Farmer John plant a productive and profitable part of Vernon's packing infrastructure."
The Vernon plant and its associated hog-production farm have been the target of weekly vigils organized by the Animal Alliance Network, protesting the treatment of baby pigs raised in cramped conditions until they are loaded on trucks bound for the slaughterhouse.
Direct Action Everywhere often protests what it calls animal cruelty and environmental pollution at the Vernon plant.
"I think it’s a win for the environment, it’s a win for the animals and activists who have been campaigning heavily for the last five years," said protester Brittany Drake.