Enamul Hafiz Latifee reports,
On Tuesday, 28 April 2020, the US President Trump signed an executive order to ensure meat processing plants stay open during the coronavirus pandemic, Fox News reported.
The order invoked the Defense Production Act, deeming the facilities a part of the country’s critical infrastructure as concerns mounted that the US food supply chain will be disrupted because of the contagion. The federal government also is supplying additional personal protective gear to plant employees.
Despite Trump’s reassurances that the food supply chain was not being affected by the outbreak, the announcement of the executive order followed numerous reports that meat processing plants around the country were struggling to stay open without the workers who have become infected by the novel coronavirus.
The plants have employed thousands of people often working side by side carving meat, so it’s been difficult to apply social-distancing rules. Such environments, according to medical professionals, kept high the risk of catching the virus even as companies took steps to increase worker protections.
The list of companies dealing with infected workers has been growing every day at plants across the country.
Industry leaders acknowledged that the US food chain rarely has been so stressed and nobody may be sure about the future, even as they tried to dispel concerns about shortages.
The White House actions come in response to alarm bells raised by major meat processors in recent weeks, who warned that the United States will face a consumer shortage of meat on grocery store shelves unless the plants are allowed to reopen.
Tyson placed a full-page ad in The New York Times, The Washington Post and Arkansas Democrat-Gazette on Sunday, 26 April 2020 addressing the plant closures. John Tyson warned that the US “food supply chain is breaking” as a growing number of plant closures have left farmers with fewer options to market and process livestock.
Tyson said it will waive the waiting period for short-term disability to allow workers who get sick to immediately be paid as well as waiving the co-pay, co-insurance and deductible for doctor visits for coronavirus testing, along with donating more than US$ 11 million in food and meals since 11 March 2020.
The company has already closed facilities in Logansport, Ind., and Waterloo, Iowa, while Smithfield has closed a facility in Sioux Falls, S.D., where at least one worker has died from the virus, as well as a JBS facility in Worthington, Minn. The Waterloo, Worthington and Sioux Falls facilities comprise about 15 percent of pork production in the US.
Other major meat processors like JBS USA and Smithfield Foods have closed facilities in recent weeks as cases of COVID-19, the potentially lethal respiratory disease caused by the novel coronavirus, have soared among plant workers.