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Jennie-O temporarily laying off 233 employees due to bird flu outbreak

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The deadly avian flu that's killed more than 5 million turkeys in the state is now costing some people their jobs, at least temporarily.

Willmar-based Jennie-O Turkey said in a news release Tuesday it will be temporarily laying off 223 employees at its Faribault plant as it shifts to a single processing shift for the "foreseeable future."

The Faribault plant has roughly 650 employees, the Star Tribune notes.

This appears to be the first mass layoff tied to the bird flu outbreak, MPR News reports. The temporary layoffs go into effect May 26, the release notes.

Jennie-O is making this shift because the avian flu outbreak has reduced the number of birds available in its supply chain, the release notes.

Since the outbreak began in March, 36 Jennie-O Turkey Store facilities and independent/contract growers in Minnesota and six in Wisconsin have confirmed cases of the virus, Jennie-O notes.

Randy L. Vergin, plant manager, said in the release:

"This will be a temporary layoff and our intent is to have everyone come back to work when bird numbers return to normal levels. We do not have an anticipated return to work date at this time, but look forward to welcoming our team members back when production levels return to normal."

Jennie-O's other plants in Willmar, Melrose and Barron, Wisconsin, were not included in this layoff.

Hormel Foods, which merged with Jennie-O in 2001 said in an April 20 news release: "The lower turkey supply is expected to impact plant operations and cause reduced sales volumes as the year progresses."

Jeffrey Ettinger, CEO of Hormel, said these challenges will "pressure earnings" in the second half of the fiscal year, but expects the financial impact of the bird flu to be partially offset by favorable hog prices.

A Jennie-O Turkey Store performance update is expected May 20, the release added.

As of Tuesday, 82 farms in 21 Minnesota counties have had confirmed cases of the virus, bringing the total number of poultry affected to more than 5.4 million birds.

Officials continue to remind consumers that turkey is still safe to eat, and lawmakers continue their push to help farmers who have been affected by the outbreak – they supported the turkey industry with a cookout at the state Capitol Tuesday, MPR News reports.

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