U.S. President Donald Trump signs an executive order on Tuesday forcing plants to continue operating throughout the coronavirus pandemic.
In light of meat plants shutting down, the POTUS orders them to stay open as their mass closure is seen as a threat to the national supply chain.
The Defense Production Act declares these plants as critical infrastructure. This will allow them to operate throughout quarantine procedures across the country, and provide limited protection from liability.
Meat production to be ensured
The president signed the EO in order to ensure that food production supply chains remain open throughout the country. As the majority of Americans shelter at home in light of the coronavirus pandemic, ensuring the unhampered delivery of primary goods has become a priority.
Prior to signing the order, President Trump said, “We’re going to sign an executive order today, I believe, and that’ll solve any liability problems.”
He also told Bloomberg that “…[meat plant] closures threaten the continued functioning of the national meat and poultry supply chain, undermining critical infrastructure during the national emergency.”
The North American Meat Institute expressed its gratitude for the president for taking the necessary steps in’ protecting the nation’s meat industry.
"We are grateful to @realDonaldTrump for protecting our nation’s food supply," said @MeatInstitute Pres. & CEO Julie Anna Potts. "The safety of the heroic men & women working in the meat & poultry industry is the 1st priority. And as it is assured, facilities should re-open.
— North American Meat Institute (@MeatInstitute) April 29, 2020
An industry vulnerable to infection
At least twenty meat plants have closed down in two months due to the alarming rise of Covid-19 infections. Infection within the industry has been high due to the closed-quarters working conditions prevalent in many meat processing plants.
Workers’ unions have been staunchly against the EO from the start. Without being able to address the workers’ working conditions, critics say that the industry would not be able to ensure worker safety.
The United Food and Commercial Workers’ Union has released a statement condemning the move, calling it nothing short of a death sentence.
America's meatpacking workers put their lives at risk daily to keep us fed during #coronavirus outbreak.
Today's @WhiteHouse order to keep meatpacking plants open must immediately increase safety to protect these brave American workers.
— UFCW (@UFCW) April 28, 2020
CNN reports that meat plant employees aren’t likely to show up despite the EO. The Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union has also expressed its disapproval of the move, by saying that the safety of the employees has to be assured first before business resumes.
The union’s president, Stuart Appelbaum, said that “People should never be expected to put their lives at risk by going to work.”
A breaking supply chain
Due to the forced closures of the meat plants across the country, the U.S. is looking at a meat production capacity reduced by 80%. This was brought about by the spread of COVID-19 across the meat industry, and also a reduced demand due to the closure of restaurants.
There is currently an oversupply of meat, but since there are now fewer processing plants, farmers have been left with a growing supply of livestock with nowhere to go.
The New York Post reports that this has resulted in the euthanization of the excess livestock, as overcrowded farming facilities can be detrimental to other livestock. This results in a closed chain where the supply is there, but unable to get to consumers.
President Trump hopes that the executive order will be the solution to solving this crisis. Otherwise, a deficit of meat plants means fewer and more expensive meat products in the market by the end of May.
Image courtesy of Markus Spiske/Pexels.