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President Trump ordered meat-processing plants to stay open in order to protect the food supply chains in the United States.
Trump has issued an executive order using the Defense Production Act to mandate that the plants continue to function, according to Reuters.
The order drew concerns from unions that said at-risk workers required more protection.
Smithfield Foods Inc SFII.UL, Cargill Inc CARG.UL, JBS USA [JBS.UL] and Tyson are some of the world’s biggest meat companies. They have ceased operations ar roughly 20 slaughterhouses and processing plants to try to protect workers from falling ill with the coronavirus.
The order is designed to protect the companies with legal cover and more liability protection in case employees catch the virus as a result of having to go to work.
John H. Tyson, chairman of Tyson Foods, said that the food supply chain is breaking, and warned of possible meat shortages across the nation.
Trump told reporters in the Oval Office that signing the order, “… will solve any liability problems,” adding, “And we always work with the farmers. There’s plenty of supply.”
The executive order said, “Such closures threaten the continued functioning of the national meat and poultry supply chain, undermining critical infrastructure during the national emergency.”
More from Reuters:
A senior administration official said the U.S. government would also provide guidance to minimize risk to workers who are especially vulnerable to the virus, such as encouraging older workers and those with other chronic health issues to stay home.
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Unions were not impressed. Some farmers said it was too late because pigs had been euthanized already instead of the pork going to market.
“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,” the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union said in a statement.
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UFCW, the largest U.S. meat-packing union, demanded that the administration compel meat companies to provide “the highest level of protective equipment” to slaughterhouse workers and ensure daily coronavirus testing.
The senior administration official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said if action were not taken, the vast majority of processing plants could have shut down for a period of time, reducing capacity by as much as 80%.