Yesterday, President Trump signed an Executive Order compelling meat processing facilities to remain open during the Coronavirus pandemic. The move was praised by meat industry trade associations, while a union that represents meat plant workers slammed the order.
The text of the Order is available at https://www.whitehouse.gov/presidential-actions/executive-order-delegating-authority-dpa-respect-food-supply-chain-resources-national-emergency-caused-outbreak-covid-19/?utm_source=link.
Under the order, the Department of Agriculture is directed to ensure America’s meat and poultry processors continue operations uninterrupted to the maximum extent possible. To ensure worker safety, these processors will continue to follow the latest guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).
“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,” the White House said in a statement. “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.”
National Chicken Council President Mike Brown issued the following statement: “We are grateful to President Trump for making this bold decision to protect our country’s food supply during these unprecedented times.
“The chicken industry’s main goal is to keep our essential workers safe and healthy.
“Our industry is following all CDC, USDA and OSHA guidelines, and many have consulted with infectious disease physicians to develop site plans. Companies began weeks ago enacting additional measures to keep workers safe, such as increased cleaning and sanitation of the plants, temperature checks before entering facilities, social distancing measures, installing plastic dividers between work stations, paid leave for sick or at risk employees, issuing masks and other personal protective gear, among many others measures.
“While doing everything we can to keep employees safe and healthy, the biggest challenge has been inconsistencies among the states and many localities in enforcing CDC guidelines in plants that add to confusion and can lead to unnecessary shutdowns. This patchwork approach is posing grave risk to the supply chain and threatening great disruption to NCC member companies. There must be a uniform approach across all states and we are hopeful that today’s announcement is a good first step in achieving that goal. NCC is urging states to immediately adopt CDC, OSHA and USDA guidelines for a uniform approach to first keep workers safe and keep Americans fed.”
The North American Meat Institute issued a statement: “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 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. We are grateful to the President for acting to protect our nation’s food supply chain.”
The United Food and Commercial Workers Union called on President Trump to take additional action to keep plant workers safe. UFCW International President Marc Perrone released the following statement:
“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 hospitalized or are showing symptoms. For the sake of all our families, we must prioritize 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.”
Source: The White House, NCC, NAMI, UFCW