One of the more troubling reports to drop this week was a Tyson Foods and some meat processing plants, claiming that the food supply chain at least for meat, was breaking because of the pandemic and because of the closures.
Now the president is moving to head off any questions of that by declaring them essential and part of critical infrastructure to prevent disruptions to the country’s food supply.
Trump plans to use the Defense Production Act to order the companies to stay open during the pandemic, and the government will provide additional protective gear for employees as well as guidance, according to the person.
Trump signaled the executive action at the White House on Tuesday, saying he planned to sign an order aimed at Tyson Foods Inc.’s liability, which had become “a road block” for the company. He didn’t elaborate.
The order, though, will not be limited to Tyson, the person said. It will affect many processing plants supplying beef, chicken, eggs and pork.
Trump’s order sets the stage for a showdown between America’s meat giants, who’ve been pressing to reopen plants hit by mass outbreaks, and local officials and labor unions who’ve called for closures and are trying to prevent the virus from spreading. The president himself has long agitated for Americans to return to work and restore a U.S. economy crippled by social distancing measures.
The White House decided to make the move amid estimates that as much as 80% of U.S. meat production capacity could shut down. Meat stocks rose on the news.
It’s pretty hard to declare groceries and liquor “essential” if you don’t also declare food producers “essential.” If the groceries can’t get the food, it seems a pretty important thing.
Because of the closures in the meat processing industry between the government and the pandemic, it’s causing producers to have to dump milk and destroy animals.
The White House has been discussing the order with meatpacking executives to determine what they need to operate safely and stay open, in order to prevent shortages, the person said. 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.
Trump acted one day after Iowa’s two U.S. senators and its governor urged the administration to invoke the DPA to keep meatpackers open and reopen closed facilities “as soon as it is possible to do so safely.” Iowa produces one-third of the nation’s pork supply, according to the state officials.