Executive order: Trump orders meat plants to stay open
Published May 2, 2020
As livestock producers across the country are forced to euthanize animals with no outlet for sale and low-income families wait in record-long lines at struggling food banks, the Trump administration has deemed meatpacking plants essential and is moving to open up any closed plants.
In an announcement on April 28, President Trump announced an Executive Order (EO) to keep meatpacking plants open, citing the critical nature of these facilities.
“We are working with Tyson and signing an EO and will solve any liability problems and we will be in good shape,” Trump said in an interview with reporters. “We always work with farmers, there is plenty of supply but the issue is distribution. This is a very unique situation due to the liability these large packing plants carry.”
This action is followed by some of the nation’s largest meat plants shutting down due to COVID-19 concerns. This EO is being met with extreme pushback from labor unions, who argue the safety of workers supersedes the need for production.
According to numerous reports, Trump plans to use the Defense Production Act to order these companies to stay open as critical infrastructure and the government will provide protective gear and guidance.
In similar fashion to his order declaring the production of ventilators and other protective medical supplies as essential, Trump has ordered meat packing plants to remain open in the interest of protecting the food supply chain.
However, in the instance of the medical supplies the Defense Production Act (DPA) was not used as large manufacturers such as General Motors stepped up and moved their production lines towards medical supplies.
According to Bloomberg News, Trump acted one day after Iowa’s two U.S. senators and its governor urged the administration to invoke the DPA to keep meatpackers open and reopen closed facilities “as soon as it is possible to do so safely.”
The officials also asked for federal assistance in euthanizing pigs and reimbursing hog farmers for their losses due to closures of processing facilities.
“At least 22 meat plants have closed within the past two months, reducing pork processing capacity by 25 percent and beef processing capacity by 10 percent, according to United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW). “Farmers have animals with nowhere to go as a result, and the situation is so dire the U.S. Department of Agriculture is setting up a center to help growers with ‘depopulation and disposal methods’ for animals.”
Experts have warned the U.S. could be just weeks away from fresh meat shortages. While inventories can provide some cushion, stockpiles are limited.
“Total American meat supplies in cold-storage facilities are equal to roughly two weeks of production,” according to USDA. “With most plant shutdowns lasting about 14 days for safety reasons, that further underscores the potential for deficits.”
Many cattle organizations support the order.
“While there are currently no widespread shortages of beef, we are seeing supply chain disruptions because of plant closures and reductions in the processing speed at many, if not most, beef processing plants in the United States. We thank President Trump for his recognition of the problem and the action he has taken to begin correcting it,” said National Cattlemen’s Beef Association CEO Colin Woodall. “American consumers rely on a safe, steady supply of food, and President Trump understands the importance of keeping cattle and beef moving to ensure agriculture continues to operate at a time when the nation needs it most.”
Defense Production Act
Formally known as the Defense Production Act of 1950, the law was enacted in September of 1950 in response to the beginning of the Korean War.
According to the Federal Register, the long title of the law is as follows, “An Act to establish a system of priorities and allocations for materials and facilities, authorize the requisitioning thereof, provide financial assistance for expansion of productive capacity and supply, provide for price and wage stabilization, provide for the settlement of labor disputes, strengthen controls over credit, and by these measures, facilitate the production of goods and services necessary for the national security and for other purposes.”
According to the Columbia Law Review (CLR), the act is divided into three major sections.
“The first authorizes the president to require businesses to accept and prioritize contracts for materials deemed necessary for national defense, regardless of a loss incurred on business,” CLR says. “The law also allows the president to designate materials to be prohibited from hoarding or price gouging. The law does not state what would occur if business refuses or is unable to complete requests on time.”
They continue, “However, any person who performs any act prohibited or willfully fails to perform any act required by the Defense Production Act may be charged with felony resulting in a fine up to $10,000 or imprisoned for up to one year or both.”
“The second section authorizes the president to establish mechanisms, such as regulations, orders or agencies, to allocate materials, services and facilities to promote national defense,” CLR explains. “The third section authorizes the president to control the civilian economy so scarce and critical materials necessary to the national defense effort are available for defense needs.”
Many labor unions are weary over the President’s EO, the largest being UFCW. The group sent a letter to Vice President Pence calling for the administration to prioritize safety as the plants reopen.
“To protect America’s food supply, America’s meatpacking workers must be protected,” said UFCW International President Marc Perrone. “The reality is these workers are putting their lives on the line every day to keep our country fed during this deadly outbreak, and at least 20 meatpacking workers have tragically died from coronavirus while more than 5,000 workers have been hospitalized or are showing symptoms. For the sake of all our families, we must prioritize the safety and security of these workers.”
Perrone continued, “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.”
“We urge the administration to immediately enact clear and enforceable safety standards that compel all meatpacking companies to provide the highest level of protective equipment through access to the federal stockpile of PPE, ensure daily testing is available for workers and their communities, enforce physical distancing at all plants, and provide full paid sick leave for any workers who are infected,” Perrone said.
“Additionally, to protect the food supply and ensure these safety standards for workers are enforced, these plants must be constantly monitored by federal inspectors and workers must have access to representation to ensure their rights are not violated,” he concluded. “All of our country’s elected leaders – federal and state – must work together to ensure we keep these essential workers safe and our country’s food supply secure.”
Callie Hanson is the managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to firstname.lastname@example.org.