Agriculture secretary expects meatpacking plants to reopen in 'days not weeks'

Agriculture secretary expects meatpacking plants to reopen in 'days not weeks'
© Bonnie Cash

Agriculture Secretary Sonny PerdueGeorge (Sonny) Ervin PerdueJustice Department investigating meat price increases: report 11,000 coronavirus cases tied to three meat processors: report The looming USDA deadline to guarantee access to school meals MORE on Thursday said meatpacking plants will reopen in a matter of "days not weeks," citing an executive order this week signed by President TrumpDonald John TrumpFauci says his meetings with Trump have 'dramatically decreased' McEnany criticizes DC mayor for not imposing earlier curfew amid protests Stopping Israel's annexation is a US national security interest MORE.

Workers in slaughterhouses will start receiving additional protective gear and have access to COVID-19 testing "virtually immediately," Perdue said in an interview with Bloomberg News.

Following Tuesday's executive order, which cited the 1950 Defense Production Act, the Department of Agriculture has been utilized to ensure meat-processing plants remain open to reduce national shortages of beef, pork, and chicken brought on by the coronavirus pandemic.

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Perdue said he expects the shortfall in meat production, which he estimated to be as high as 30 percent right now, to fall to 10 percent or 15 percent within 10 days.

However, production isn't likely to return to its pre-pandemic pace, Perdue said, as new practices are put in place in an effort to reduce the spread of the virus.

"There will be some less production, some inefficiency based on line speeds, some employees that will not be able to come back to work," Perdue said, adding that the health and safety of workers is the main priority.

"We want to assure the workers and the community of their safety," he said.

Throughout the pandemic, more than a dozen meat processing plants owned by companies such as Tyson and Smithfield have been temporarily shut down due to outbreaks.

The United Food and Commercial Workers Union reported at least 6,500 workers who had been directly affected by the coronavirus, as well as 20 deaths at meat plants across the country.

On Wednesday, the Agriculture Department said it would request meat processors to submit plans to operate packing facilities safely and review the measures with local officials.