AP: Trump to sign order keeping meat processing plants open

Posted at 2:15 PM, Apr 28, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-28 20:01:18-04

DENVER — President Donald Trump is expected to order all meatpacking facilities to reopen amid the COVID-19 crisis, according to an Associated Press report.

The president will sign an executive order Tuesday, classifying meat processing as a critical industry under the Defense Production Act.

The order comes as outbreaks at meatpacking facilities across the country, and Colorado has been forced to shut down, creating a critical hole in the country's food supply chain, according to industry leaders.

The JBS plant in Greeley was shuttered April 10 for two weeks for cleaning and testing after at least four COVID-19-related deaths and 102 positive cases were reported at the Weld County facility. The plant's 6,000 employees returned to work Friday after the facility reopened.

Tensions between JBS officials and the workers union have flared up since the beginning of the outbreak. On Monday, JBS sent a cease-and-desist letter to the union head, accusing the union of engaging in a "multi-faceted corporate campaign" against the company. The United Food and Commercial Workers Union responded in a letter accusing the company of "threatening to stifle our voice" of the union and its members.

In a statement released Tuesday, Kim Cordova, President of UFCW Local 7, said the president's order "will only ensure that more workers get sick, jeopardizing lives, family’s income, communities, and of course, the country’s food supply chain."

She continues, "There are common sense measures that can keep our food supply chains strong, and our workers healthy and safe, such as mandatory testing and PPE for all workers, paid sick leave, full healthcare coverage, staggered shifts, and implementing social distancing on the production line."

Greeley is not the only Colorado community affected by outbreaks in the meatpacking industry. State health officials confirmed Tuesday there have been 15 positive cases and at least one COVID-19-related death at the Cargill meatpacking facility in Fort Morgan. However, the Fort Morgan plant has continued to operate.

Other facilities in Colorado, including Mountain States Rosen Company, a lamb processing plant in Weld County, and Rocky Mountain Natural Meats in Adams County have seen a combined total of at least 19 positive cases, according to data provided by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

Despite these outbreaks, all of Colorado's meatpacking facilities are operating, and the state's supply of beef is not in danger.

“We have adequate and abundant supplies of food. I would say that we need to be cautious about overreacting,” said Terry Fankhauser, executive vice president of the Colorado Cattlemen’s Association.

Mary Peck, with the Colorado Department of Agriculture, said she doesn't anticipate an emergency order at the state level.

"Here in Colorado, large meat processing facilities are not regulated by the state, but federally by USDA. While our Colorado meat processors have faced challenges, they are up and running at this time and at this point we would not anticipate an EO along these lines having to be used in Colorado at this time," Peck wrote in a statement to Denver7.

But the supply chain for chicken and pork are facing some major challenges around the country. Plants operated by JBS, Tyson, Smithfield Foods, and others are struggling to contain the spread of the coronavirus among employees and have shuttered several plants.

On Sunday, Tyson Foods Chairman John Tyson stated in a blog post that plant closures are leaving supermarket shelves empty and breaking the country's food supply chain.

"We have a responsibility to feed our country. It is as essential as healthcare. This is a challenge that should not be ignored. Our plants must remain operational so that we can supply food to our families in America. This is a delicate balance because Tyson Foods places team member safety as our top priority," Tyson wrote.