Business & Lobbying

Meat and poultry industry groups applaud Trump for keeping processing plants open

The meat and poultry industry praised President Trump on Tuesday evening after he signed an executive order using the Defense Production Act to order food processing plants to stay open.

The National Chicken Council (NCC), which represents about 95 percent of the chicken produced in the U.S., including Tyson Foods, Perdue and Sanderson Farms, said the industry was “grateful” Trump made the decision.

“While doing everything we can to keep employees safe and healthy, the biggest challenge has been inconsistencies among the states and many localities in enforcing CDC guidelines in plants that add to confusion and can lead to unnecessary shutdowns. This patchwork approach is posing grave risk to the supply chain and threatening great disruption to NCC member companies,” President Mike Brown said in a statement, referring to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

He added: “There must be a uniform approach across all states and we are hopeful that today’s announcement is a good first step in achieving that goal.”

Trump’s decision comes after the chairman of Tyson Foods warned that the nation’s food supply was “breaking” as a result of the coronavirus outbreak.

The company said following Trump’s order that it appreciates the administration’s efforts to help the food supply chain.

“We remain committed to protecting the safety of our team members as we continue our efforts to keep feeding American families. The safety of our team members will remain our top priority as we work with the USDA on next steps,” a company spokesman said, referring to the Department of Agriculture. 

He added that Tyson Foods has been screening worker temperatures, requiring protective face coverings, conducting additional cleaning and sanitizing, and implementing social distancing measures.

The North American Meat Institute also said that Trump’s order will help “avert hardship” for producers and keep U.S. families fed.

“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,” CEO Julie Anna Potts said in a statement following the order. 

The NCC and the Meat Institute stressed that their industries are following CDC and Occupational Safety and Health Administration guidance for workers and are taking additional measures to keep workers safe.

And the National Pork Producers Council said the industry is “thankful” for Trump’s order.

“As we all work together to protect workers and the nation’s food supply, we need uniform and consistent solutions and all available resources to address this unprecedented crisis. We thank President Trump for taking this step,” the council’s president, Howard Roth, said in a statement on Wednesday.

Trump’s order will apply to all meat and poultry processing plants in the U.S. in an effort to prevent further disruptions to the food supply. The president signaled he would sign the order earlier Tuesday following estimates that meat production capacity nationwide could be reduced by as much as 80 percent.

JBS and Smithfield, which all have had plant closures as well as Tyson Foods, did not immediately respond to The Hill’s request for comment.

Animal protection group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) immediately blasted Trump’s announcement on Tuesday. 

“For the sake of human health and on behalf of the animals destined to be slaughtered and the migrant and other workers who are treated like scum in these slaughterhouses and whose families are more at risk than in almost any other job, PETA asks the nation to rise up and shout a resounding ‘NO’ to keeping slaughterhouses open,” President Ingrid Newkirk said.

Worker protection groups also criticized Trump after he indicated that he would sign the order.

Stuart Appelbaum, president of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, said, “We only wish that this administration cared as much about the lives of working people as it does about meat, pork and poultry products.”  

Another union — UFCW Local 7, which represents 3,000 workers at the JBS meat processing plant in Greeley, Colo., that closed after a coronavirus outbreak but has since reopened — also weighed in to blast Trump’s order.

“The President’s executive order will only ensure that more workers get sick, jeopardizing lives, family’s income, communities, and of course, the country’s food supply chain. Many of our workers came here to work hard and live the American dream. This order turns those dreams into nightmares. This is not just a labor issue, but a human rights issue,” UFCW Local 7 President Kim Cordova said in a statement.

And the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health (National COSH) said that workplaces like food processing plants should never be required to stay open if they are unsafe. 

“Essential workplaces should never be required to stay open unless they are safe—for the sake of workers on site, and to prevent the spread of a deadly disease to co-workers, families and the public at large,” Marcy Goldstein-Gelb, co-executive director of the National COSH, said.

Updated at on April 29 at 9:20 a.m.

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