US president Donald Trump has ordered meat factories in the US to remain open to protect its food supply chain during the coronavirus pandemic.
Trump signed an executive order on Tuesday evening invoking the 1950 Defence Production Act, a law put in place during the Korean War, dictating that plants continue to function.
Estimations are that over 22 plants are closed with pork slaughtering capacity reduced by 25% and beef capacity reduced by 10%.
“It is important that processors of beef, pork and poultry in the food supply chain continue operating and fulfilling orders to ensure a continued supply of protein for Americans,” the order states.
Recent actions in some states have led to the complete closure of some large processing facilities
“However, outbreaks of COVID-19 among workers at some processing facilities have led to the reduction in some of those facilities’ production capacity. In addition, recent actions in some states have led to the complete closure of some large processing facilities.”
The order says such closures threatened the continued functioning of the meat supply chain and undermined critical infrastructure during a national emergency.
In adverts taken in two national papers, Tyson Foods chair John Tyson wrote that the company was being forced to shut the doors on many of its pork, beef and chicken processing plants due to COVID-19. The company said the closure of plants would lead to shortages of meat products across the country.
Farmers across the nation simply will not have anywhere to sell their livestock
“In addition to meat shortages, this is a serious food waste issue. Farmers across the nation simply will not have anywhere to sell their livestock to be processed, when they could have fed the nation,” wrote John Tyson.
“Millions of animals – chicken, pigs and cattle – will be depopulated because of the closure of our processing facilities. The food supply chain is breaking,” he warned.
United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW), an American union that represents 250,000 workers in the meat processing industry, called on President Trump to take immediate action to support his new order.
The reality is that these workers are putting their lives on the line every day
UFCW international president Marc Perrone 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.”
Perrone called on the government to provide access to the federal stockpile of protective equipment, ensure daily testing is available for workers, enforce physical distancing at all plants, and provide full-paid sick leave for any workers who are infected.