(CNN) – President Donald Trump signed a Defense Production Act to force meat processing companies to remain open during the coronavirus pandemic.
Trump highlighted the command during an Oval Office meeting with Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, which was open to reporters.
“I think we’re going to sign an executive order today that will solve all liability issues,” Trump said on Tuesday.
The president signed the order after some companies like Tyson Foods considered keeping only 20% of their facilities open. The vast majority of processing plants could have been shut down – which would have reduced processing capacity in the country by up to 80%, an official familiar with the job told CNN.
With the signing of the order, Trump declared these facilities to be part of the critical infrastructure in the United States.
The administration also works with the Department of Labor to issue guidelines on which employees to work in these meat processing plants should stay at home, including those who are part of the population most susceptible to the corona virus.
When Trump announced the executive order, he told reporters that his administration was working with Tyson Foods.
Tyson Foods spokesman Gary Mickelson did not want to comment on the order because the company had not seen it, but said: “We can tell you that our top priority remains the safety of (our) team members and plant communities as we work on it to continue fulfilling our mandate. ” Role of family nutrition across the country. “
With many Americans staying at home during the corona virus, industry experts say that the demand for meat has increased. However, some of the country’s largest processing plants have had to temporarily shut down after thousands of employees across the country have tested positive for the virus.
The situation has become so serious that meat processing executives have warned that US meat supply may be at risk.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, meat, beef, and pork production reached record levels in March. Earlier this month, the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union announced that at least 13 processing plants had been closed in the past two months, reducing pork slaughtering capacity by 25% and beef slaughtering capacity by 10%.
The union also estimated on Tuesday that 20 workers in meat packaging and food processing have died so far.
Large meat processors have been ruthlessly reducing costs and increasing efficiency for years.
According to the OSH, the dangers in the industry include “high noise levels, dangerous equipment, slippery floors, musculoskeletal disorders and dangerous chemicals”.
In addition to these dangers, efforts to speed up processing have resulted in workers being closer together – about three to four feet apart while working.
Officials say people should be about a meter apart to maintain social distancing practices that could help prevent Covid-19 from spreading.
Major meat processors such as Smithfield, Tyson and others claim to have taken measures such as temperature controls and plexiglass to promote social distancing in some areas and to ensure the safety of their workers. However, some workers say that their employers are not doing enough to protect them.
In March, the United Nations warned that the coronavirus pandemic was threatening to disrupt food supply chains worldwide.
“A protracted pandemic crisis could quickly put a strain on the food supply chain, a complex network of interactions between farmers, agricultural resources, processing plants, shipping, retailers, and more,” said a report from the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization.
North Carolina Democratic MP Alma Adams, chair of the Subcommittee on Workplace Protection at Home, said the works “should not be reopened without unprecedented protection and protection for workers and livestock.”
“(D) The Trump administration shouldn’t decide which workers are safe and which workers are at risk,” said Adams in a statement.
Republican Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley praised the move on Twitter, but stressed the need to follow federal guidelines to protect workers.
“Pres @realDonaldTrump is right 2Using Authority 2 Keeping meat processing plants open Its critical infrastructure 4 The country’s food supply chain As I said, society is tweeted 9 meals from food riots.
Trump previously relied on the Defense Production Act during the pandemic to force companies to manufacture or procure medical care and equipment, such as personal protective equipment and ventilators. It has also been used to track sellers who hoard supplies and sell at huge premiums.