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CHICAGO, Oct 10 (Reuters) - The U.S. daily hog slaughter on Monday dropped more than 50,000 head, which industry sources attributed to possible plant closures in the Carolinas after Hurricane Matthew deluged the East Coast over the weekend.
Smithfield Foods, the world's largest pork processor and hog producer, said its employees were working around the clock to determine the impact of extraordinary high levels of rain in North Carolina on its hog farms and packing plants, company spokeswomen Kathleen Kirkham said in an e-mail on Monday.
"None of our processing plants in North Carolina or Virginia suffered substantive damage, but flooding is making the movement of hogs and employees difficult," said Kirkham. She declined to comment when asked whether any of Smithfield Foods' East Coast plants were closed on Monday.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture's daily livestock slaughter report estimated Monday's hog slaughter at 385,000 head. That was down from 440,000 last Monday and 441,000 head on Sept. 26.
Smithfield Foods canceled last Saturday's hog slaughter at its Tar Heel, North Carolina plant, the biggest in the world, as a safety precaution ahead of the storm, according to industry sources.
USDA estimated last Saturday's overall industry slaughter at 236,000 head, down from early-week projections of roughly 250,000 by analysts and Midwest hog merchants.
Don Roose, president of Iowa-based U.S. Commodities, said, "We just anticipated that some plants on the East Coast were going to be down on Monday." Based on ramped up U.S. slaughter rates in recent weeks, Monday's hog kill data suggest plant downtime, he added.
Roose said that a larger slaughter outcome on Tuesday would indicate a potential resumption of slaughter operations.
Hog packing plant disruptions could not have come at a worse time for U.S. hog farmers who are reeling from low prices for their animals, pressured by abundant supplies of pork, beef and chicken.
"Ultimately, you're going to have the same number of hogs coming through a narrower window, with a limited kill capacity. You're going to have to distribute those hogs over a limited time frame," said Roose. (Reporting by Theopolis Waters; Editing by Richard Chang)