SMITHFIELD, Va. – Industry breathed a collective sigh of relief after Hurricane Irene was downgraded to a tropical storm. Although it was still a very damaging storm responsible for multiple deaths and much destruction up and down the Eastern Seaboard, the storm appears to have had done minimal damage to the US meat and poultry industry.

Smithfield Foods Inc. executives said on Aug. 29 its employees will be returning back to work today at its meat processing facilities and farms in North Carolina and Virginia following their initial assessment of damages in the wake of Hurricane Irene. Headquarters offices in Smithfield, Va., are also fully operational.

However, minor structural damage was reported on some barns belonging to contract farmers in North Carolina and Virginia, but onsite emergency generators are ensuring all animals continue to receive regular food and water. Smithfield added all of its environmental pollution-control systems are still in good working order.

"I am happy and greatly relieved to report that all of our employees are safe," said C. Larry Pope, president and CEO. He added, "I also want to thank our employees at our farms and plants for the outstanding job they did in minimizing damage from the hurricane. They followed our emergency preparedness plans and observed safety precautions, and it really paid off."

A spokesman from the National Pork Producers Council told the following when asked how Irene impacted the overall US pork industry: “We're still looking for reports, but one from North Carolina – the hardest hit with the most hogs – reported very little damage and very few animals lost. There was some damage to barn roofs. No lagoons were breached. Apparently, some municipal waste treatment lagoons did breach.”

“Early indications are that damage was minimal and plants will operate normally today,” added a spokesman from the National Chicken Council when asked about damage the US chicken industry had suffered from the storm.

Austin, Minn.-based Hormel Foods Corporation announced it planned to donate about 220,000 Hormel Compleats microwave meals to Feeding America to aid in relief efforts following Tropical Storm Irene.