President Donald J. Trump Tuesday night signed an executive order requiring meat processors to remain open or to re-open although growing numbers of employees are not coming to work because they fear they and their families will be infected by the coronavirus.
President Trump is using the Defense Production Act to ensure that Americans have a reliable supply of products like beef, pork and poultry.
According to the order, “the Department of Agriculture is directed to ensure America’s meat and poultry processors continue operations uninterrupted to the maximum extent possible,” said the White House press office.
Trump signed the executive order three days after John H. Tyson, chairman of Tyson Foods, the world’s second largest beef, pork and poultry processor, placed a full-page ad in The New York Times and The Washington Post warning that the “food supply chain is vulnerable” because the coronavirus has forced companies to close meat processing plants.
“As pork, beef, and chicken plants are being forced to close even for a short period of time, millions of pounds of meat will disappear from the supply chain,” Tyson wrote.
Tyson Fresh Meats, which is owned by Tyson Foods, recently suspended operations at its pork processing plant in Waterloo, Iowa.
“The plant has been running at reduced levels of production because of a high rate of worker absenteeism,” company officials said in a statement. The pork processing plant, the largest in Tyson’s system, employs 2,800 workers.
The United Food and Commercial Workers, which represents employees in the meat processing industry, reported Tuesday that 72 workers have died and 5,322 workers have tested positive for Covid-19. Some have missed work due to self-quarantine. Others are waiting for test results or have been hospitalized, and/or are symptomatic, union officials said.
Trump said: “To ensure worker safety, these processors will continue to follow the latest guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.”