President Donald Trump on Tuesday will sign an executive order declaring meat processing plants critical infrastructure, he confirmed at the White House on Tuesday. That will include trying to minimize the risk to workers who may be prone to serious complications from the virus, including strongly recommending those over the age of 65 and with preexisting conditions stay home.
In the lead-up to the 2020 election, all eyes are on Iowa.
UFCW, the largest United States 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. Another 6,500 USA employees have become either ill or were exposed to the virus.
Trump on Tuesday said the order would address what he described as a "legal roadblock". While the output at beef and poultry plants has diminished, pork plants in the Midwest have been hit especially hard. About 25% of pork and 10% of beef processing is offline, experts estimate. That means as many as 40,000 hogs in Iowa are not getting processed each day.
Many have been forced to close. By requiring processing plants to stay open, they're provided the liability protection they need to remain operational. Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst welcomed the news on social media.
Trump acted one day after Iowa's two United States senators and its governor urged the administration to invoke the Defense Production Act to keep meatpackers open and reopen closed facilities "as soon as it is possible to do so safely". It's distribution. And we will probably have that today solved.
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Unions were not impressed.
"There are now 1,000 positive cases of the virus in my community, and the path of destruction leaves behind orphans, families and friends", said Chris Schwartz, a Black Hawk County supervisor, who pushed Tyson to close its pork processing plant with growing COVID-19 cases. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration have issued extensive guidelines on steps companies and workers should take.
These workers have been on the front lines throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, risking their lives to feed the rest of us.
White House General Counsel Pat Cipollone worked with private companies to design a federal mandate to keep the plants open and to provide them additional virus testing capacity as well as protective gear. Inspectors say the USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service failed to provide them with adequate safety equipment.
The National Pork Producers Council said Tuesday that it was waiting for more details.
He said millions of cattle, pigs and chickens will be euthanised because of slaughterhouse closures, limiting supplies at supermarkets. This would leave roughly 20 percent of the meat processing plants in the country to feed the entire US population. And we always work with the farmers.
At least 13 workers have died.