WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump issued an executive order, citing the Defense Production Act of 1950, to keep meat processing plants open to hold off possible shortages of beef, pork, chicken and other meats.

Under the order, “the Department of Agriculture is directed to ensure America’s meat and poultry processors continue operations uninterrupted to the maximum extent possible.”

According to the executive order, meat and poultry processing plants are classified as “critical infrastructure.” Closing meat processing plants can quickly have an impact on the nation’s food supply chain, Mr. Trump said.

“To combat this crisis and ensure the adequate availability of food for the American people, it is vital that these processors are able to remain operating at this critical moment, while also taking steps to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in their facilities," he said.

During a meeting at the White House on April 28, Mr. Trump said “there’s plenty of supply,” but that supply chains had hit a “roadblock.”

The executive order will help protect the nation’s food supply and keep plants operational.

“We’re working very hard to make sure our food supply chain is sound and plentiful,” Mr. Trump said.

Industry associations, including the North American Meat Institute (NAMI), applauded the president’s order to ensure the ongoing production of meat and poultry in the United States.

“By keeping meat and poultry producers operating, the President's Executive Order will help avert hardship for agricultural producers and keep safe, affordable food on the tables of American families,” said Julie Anna Potts, president and chief executive officer of the NAMI. “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.”

Ms. Potts said the meat industry “has and will continue to implement the Centers for Disease Control and Occupational Safety and Health Administration guidance released April 26.”

These measures include testing, temperature checks, face coverings, social distancing of employees where possible and much more. Many meat companies are also raising pay, offering bonuses, providing paid sick leave and increasing health benefits, Ms. Potts said.

Mike Brown, president of the National Chicken Council, also commended the president’s executive order.

“We are grateful to President Trump for making this bold decision to protect our country’s food supply during these unprecedented times. The chicken industry’s main goal is to keep our essential workers safe and healthy," Mr. Brown said.
“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," Mr. Brown said. "This patchwork approach is posing grave risk to the supply chain and threatening great disruption to NCC member companies. 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. NCC is urging states to immediately adopt CDC, OSHA and USDA guidelines for a uniform approach to first keep workers safe and keep Americans fed.”

Following Mr. Trump’s announcement, the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW) urged the administration to strengthen COVID-19 testing and worker safety measures in order to keep the supply chain moving.

Marc Perrone, international president of the UFCW, said that more than 5,000 meatpacking workers have been hospitalized or are showing symptoms, and at least 20 have died. 

“For the sake of all our families, we must prioritize the safety and security of these workers,” Mr. Perrone said. “While we share the concern over the food supply, today’s executive order to force meatpacking plants to stay open must put the safety of our country’s meatpacking workers first. Simply put, we cannot have a secure food supply without the safety of these workers.”

Stuart Appelbaum, president of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, said more action was needed to keep employees safe and healthy.

 “When poultry plants shut down, it’s for deep cleaning and to save workers’ lives,” he said. “If the administration had developed meaningful safety requirements early on as they should have and still must do, this would not even have become an issue.”