Trump orders US meat processing plants to stay open

Trump orders US meat processing plants to stay open

US president Donald Trump has ordered meat processing facilities to remain open in order to protect the country’s supply of meat during the Covid-19 crisis.

As part of a new Defense Production Act, the move looks to ensure that Americans have a reliable supply of products like beef, pork, and poultry, stating that the closure of meat and poultry processing plants can have an outsized impact on the nation’s food supply chain.

This comes after some of the country’s biggest meat and poultry producers, such as Smithfield Foods, Tyson Foods and JBS USA, shuttered their doors following an estimated 3,300 cases of coronavirus amongst US meatpacking workers.

Now, however, President Trump has signed an Executive Order which calls on the Department of Agriculture to ensure America’s meat and poultry processors continue operations uninterrupted to the maximum extent possible.

“To combat this crisis and ensure the adequate availability of food for the American people, it is vital that these processors are able to remain operating at this critical moment, while also taking steps to prevent the spread of Covid-19 in their facilities.”

The Executive Order states: “Given the high concentration of meat and poultry processors in a relatively small number of large facilities, closure of any of these plants could disrupt our food supply and detrimentally impact our hardworking farmers and ranchers.

“Closure of a single large beef processing plant can result in the loss of over 10 million servings of beef in a single day. Similarly, the closure of a single plant can eliminate more than 80 percent of the supply of a particular meat product—like ground beef—to an entire grocery store chain.

“Failure to process livestock could force millions of pounds of meat to disappear from the market, potentially leading to long-term disruptions in our supply chain.

“To combat this crisis and ensure the adequate availability of food for the American people, it is vital that these processors are able to remain operating at this critical moment, while also taking steps to prevent the spread of Covid-19 in their facilities.”

Union response

Responding to the news, Marc Perrone, president of United Food and Commercial Workers International Union International (UFCW), the largest meatpacking trade union in the US, said: “To protect America’s food supply, America’s meatpacking workers must be protected. The reality is that these workers are putting their lives on the line every day to keep our country fed during this deadly outbreak, and at least 20 meatpacking workers have tragically died from coronavirus while more than 5,000 workers have been hospitalised or are showing symptoms. For the sake of all our families, we must prioritise the safety and security of these workers.

“While we share the concern over the food supply, today’s 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 secure food supply without the safety of these workers. We urge the Administration to immediately enact clear and enforceable safety standards that compel all meatpacking companies to provide the highest level of protective equipment through access to the federal stockpile of PPE, ensure daily testing is available for workers and their communities, enforce physical distancing at all plants, and provide full paid sick leave for any workers who are infected. Additionally, to protect the food supply and ensure these safety standards for workers are enforced, these plants must be constantly monitored by federal inspectors and workers must have access to representation to ensure their rights are not violated.

“All of our country’s elected leaders – federal and state – must work together to ensure that we keep these essential workers safe and our country’s food supply secure.”

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