Late Tuesday, President Donald Trump signed an Executive Order that ordered meat processing plants to remain open, declaring them critical infrastructure. The order applies to all meat processing plants to prevent further disruptions in the meat industry, an industry that itself has raised alarms about the possibility of food shortages in the near future.
“It is important that processors of beef, pork, and poultry (‘meat and poultry’) in the food supply chain continue operating and fulfilling orders to ensure a continued supply of protein for Americans,” the order reads. “However, outbreaks of COVID-19 among workers at some processing facilities have led to the reduction in some of those facilities’ production capacity.
Although Tyson Foods Inc., which shuttered operations at a major Iowa pork facility last week, was at the center of discussions, it is not the only company this Executive Order will affect. Other companies have also shut down plants across the country including Smithfield and JBS USA. The Executive Order includes the beef, chicken, eggs, and pork industry.
Trump said in a statement earlier on Tuesday, “We are going to sign an Executive Order today, I believe, that will solve any liability problems. … It was a very unique circumstance because of liability.”
“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 Julie Anna Potts, president and CEO of the North American Meat Institute. “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.”
Tyson Foods was particularly in the spotlight because, just a few days after Tyson suspended operations at the Iowa facility due to many workers testing positive for COVID-19, the company took out a full-page ad in The New York Times warning that food shortages are likely in the meat industry. Specifically, Tyson said that “there will be limited supply of our products in grocery stores until we are able to reopen our facilities that are currently closed.”
U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue said, “I thank President Trump for signing this executive order and recognizing the importance of keeping our food supply chain safe, secure, and plentiful. Our nation’s meat and poultry processing facilities play an integral role in the continuity of our food supply chain. Maintaining the health and safety of these heroic employees in order to ensure that these critical facilities can continue operating is paramount. I also want to thank the companies who are doing their best to keep their workforce safe as well as keeping our food supply sustained. USDA will continue to work with its partners across the federal government to ensure employee safety to maintain this essential industry.”
We will update this story as more information becomes available.