President Donald Trump signed an executive order to keep meat processing plants open to prevent an interruption in the supply chain that would lead to a severe meat shortage across the country. Dozens of processing plants have had to shut down due to outbreaks of coronavirus among their employees.
Invoking the Defense Production Act, Trump declared meat processors critical infrastructure that must remain operational during the coronavirus crisis.
According to the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW), during the past two months, 22 meat processing plants have had to close due to outbreaks of coronavirus among their employees. The UFCW said that, to date, 20 workers have died in meat and food processing plants, and at least 5,000 workers have been directly impacted by the coronavirus.
Industry leaders had warned that consumers could experience a shortage of meat in a matter of days. Tyson Foods Inc, one of the world’s largest food companies, placed a full-page ad in the New York Times and other newspapers on Sunday warning that, “The food supply chain is breaking down.
“As pork, beef and chicken processing plants are being forced to close, even for short periods of time, millions of pounds of meat will disappear from the supply chain,” John H. Tyson, chairman of the board of Tyson Foods, wrote in the newspaper ad.
Union President Marc Perrone called on President Trump to take immediate action to support his new executive order that all meatpacking plants remain open during the coronavirus outbreak.
“While we share the concern about the food supply, the executive order to force meatpacking plants to stay open must put the safety of our country’s meatpacking workers first. Simply put, we cannot have a safe food supply without the safety of these workers,” said Perrone.
Under the Executive Order and the authority of the Defense Production Act, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) will work with meat processing to affirm they will operate in accordance with the CDC and Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) guidance to keep employees safe, and then work with state and local officials to ensure these plants can operate to produce the meat protein Americans need, the USDA said in a statement.
“Maintaining the health and safety of these heroic employees in order to ensure that these critical facilities can continue operating is paramount. I also want to thank the companies who are doing their best to keep their workforce safe as well as keeping our food supply sustained,” said Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue.
The North American Meat Institute expressed its support for the executive order signed by Trump.
“By keeping meat and poultry producers in business, the President’s Executive Order will help prevent hardship to agricultural producers and keep safe and affordable food on the tables of American families,” said Meat Institute President and CEO Julie Anna Potts. “The safety of the heroic men and women who work in the meat and poultry industry is the first priority. And because it is assured, the facility must be allowed to reopen. We are grateful to the President for acting to protect our nation’s food supply chain.”
The industry has implemented and will continue to implement the guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration released Sunday. These measures include testing, temperature controls, covering faces, and social distancing of employees whenever possible, the Meat Institute said.