President Trump signed an executive order April 28 to keep meat and poultry processors open during the COVID-19 national emergency.
"It is important that processors of beef, pork, and poultry (“meat and poultry”) in the food supply chain continue operating and fulfilling orders to ensure a continued supply of protein for Americans," the executive order reads.
Plants across the nation have closed as outbreaks have occurred at plants. At least 13 processing plants have closed over the past two months, resulting in 25% reduction in pork slaughter and 10% reduction in beef slaughter capacity, CNN reports
"Such closures threaten the continued functioning of the national meat and poultry supply chain, undermining critical infrastructure during the national emergency," the order reads.
The order directs Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue to "take all appropriate action under that section to ensure that meat and poultry processors continue operations consistent with the guidance for their operations jointly issued by the CDC and OSHA."
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration have put out guidance for plants to implement to help ensure employee safety to reopen plants or to continue to operate those still open. Under the Executive Order and the authority of the Defense Production Act, USDA will work with meat processing to affirm they will operate in accordance with the CDC and OSHA guidance, and then work with state and local officials to ensure that these plants are allowed to operate.
“Processing plants are important to cattle producers and consumers, but they also provide an important tax base for rural America and are an important provider of jobs and income in small communities across the nation," said National Cattlemen's Beef Association CEO Colin Woodall. "The CDC guidelines will help ensure the employees and their communities are better protected from the further spread of COVID-19, while they continue to provide an essential service both to cattle producers and American consumers.”
There are no widespread shortages of meat because of the COVID-19 closures, but there are supply chain disruptions and pork producers are killing hogs.
“We are thankful for the support extended by our federal, state and local government leaders," said Howard “A.V.” Roth, National Pork Producers Council president and a producer from Wauzeka, Wisconsin. "As we all work together to protect workers and the nation’s food supply, we need uniform and consistent solutions and all available resources to address this unprecedented crisis."
“By keeping meat and poultry producers operating, the president's executive order will help avert hardship for agricultural producers and keep safe, affordable food on the tables of American families,” said North American Meat Institute President and CEO Julie Anna Potts. “The safety of the heroic men and women working in the meat and poultry industry is the first priority. And as it is assured, facilities should be allowed to re-open."
The guidance from the CDC and OSHA to protect employees include:
- temperature checks,
- face coverings, and
- social distancing of employees.
Sen. Debbie Stabenow, ranking member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, was critical of the president's action.
“The way we keep our food supply chain safe is to keep our workers safe," Stabenow said.
Last week, 36 Democratic senators urged the Trump administration to take action to ensure the safety of the nation's food supply and protect essential food supply workers.
"First and foremost, we need to protect essential employees in order to continue food production and processing," Stabenow said. "Instead of using the Defense Production Act in a way that could put workers at risk, it should be used to produce supplies that will protect employees and our nation’s food supply."
By signing the order and requiring plants to reopen, "the president’s shortsighted action could put more workers in harm’s way and continue to damage our food processing capacity," Stabenow said.