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Trump Signs Executive Order to Keep Meat and Poultry Processing Facilities Open

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President Trump signed an executive order late Tuesday that declared US meat and poultry processing facilities “critical infrastructure” necessary to maintain the nation’s food supply chain, keeping them open under the Defense Protection Act. Blayne Alexander reported in the lead story on NBC Nightly News, “On the heels of a dire warning from Tyson Foods that the food supply chain is breaking, President Trump is invoking the Defense Production Act, ordering all beef, chicken, pork, and egg facilities to stay open. … The President’s executive order will also send more protective gear for employees at meat plants, which have been hit hard by COVID-19.”

Reuters quotes Trump as saying in the Oval Office during a meeting with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R), “We’re working with Tyson … We’re going to sign an executive order today, I believe, and that will solve any liability problems where they had certain liability problems.” The AP  reports the order “will use the Defense Production Act to classify meat processing as critical infrastructure to keep plants open and prevent a shortage of chicken, pork and other meat on supermarket shelves, despite concerns about workers’ health.” The coronavirus “has forced two of the nation’s largest plants, one in Iowa and one in South Dakota, to close and others to slow production.”

The New York Times reports the move “comes as meat plants around the country have turned into coronavirus hot spots, sickening thousands of workers, and after the head of Tyson Foods, one of the country’s largest processors, warned that millions of pounds of meat would simply disappear from the supply chain.” USA Today reports, “Critics said the forced openings – some plants have closed because so many employees contracted the coronavirus – threaten the safety of workers who remain vulnerable to the disease. … More than 4,400 meatpacking workers have tested positive for the virus, and at least 18 have died from the virus as of Tuesday morning.”

The Washington Post reports, “At least 79 food-processing and meatpacking plants have reported cases” of COVID-19 as of Monday, “with many plants closing temporarily because of illness and absenteeism and to do deep cleaning and retrofitting to accommodate social distancing and proper protective gear. … The daily cattle slaughter for the week of April 13 fell nearly 24 percent from the same week a year ago, and pig slaughter was down 13 percent. In response to these significant and unprecedented swings,” the USDA said last week “that it expects beef prices to rise 1 to 2 percent this year, poultry as much as 1.5 percent and pork between 2 and 3 percent.” The Washington Post  separately reports that the United Food and Commercial Workers union “said Tuesday at least 17 workers in the industry have died from the disease and at least 5,000 have been directly impacted by the virus.”

Grocery supply executive says some meat could be out of stock by next week. Fox News  reports on its website that C&S Wholesale Grocers CEO Michael Duffy said Tuesday that consumers “will soon see more instances of meat being out of stock in grocery stores due to disruptions in the supply chain amid the coronavirus outbreak.” Duffy said, “What we’re seeing is with consumer demand up almost 50 percent on average the last six weeks and the cumulative impact of all the plant closures and shift reductions reducing production capacity by 30 to 40 percent, we will see more out of stocks at retail probably beginning next week.”

OSHA investigating seven Wisconsin food processing plants over COVID-19 concerns. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel  reports, “The COVID-19 crisis in Wisconsin food processing plants continues to intensify, with more than 100 workers at a Darien facility testing positive for the virus and an employee at a Pleasant Prairie plant dying from the illness.” Occupational Safety and Health Administration officials “say they are now investigating seven Wisconsin food processing plants over virus-related concerns.”

Delaware plant killed nearly 2 million chickens due to quarantine impact. The New York Times reports Delaware-based Allen Harim Foods “killed nearly 2 million chickens this month after many of its workers were sidelined by illness or quarantine orders related to the coronavirus, industry officials said.” The Times says the action “was the latest example of how food processors are being affected by the coronavirus, which is keeping workers away because of illness or quarantine.”

Health officials concerned about two poultry plants on Virginia’s Eastern Shore. The Washington Post  reports, “Health officials on Virginia’s Eastern Shore are increasingly worried that clusters of coronavirus tied to two poultry plants may overwhelm” the only local hospital. The Perdue Farms and Tyson Foods plants “have continued operating as the number of cases linked to them climbed in the past week, according to health officials. Hospital officials said Tuesday that there are nearly 100 cases of Tyson employees or people who came in contact with them” contracting COVID-19, “while the Perdue plant has about 80 such cases.”

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