Quantcast
Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life

Help Support EcoWatch

Trump Orders Meat Plants to Stay Open During Pandemic

Food
A Smithfield Foods pork plant in Sioux Falls, South Dakota that was forced to close after it became one of the nation's leading coronavirus hot spots. Smithfield Foods was bought by China's WH Group Ltd (0288.HK) in 2013 for $4.7 billion, according to Reuters. KEREM YUCEL / AFP via Getty Images

President Donald Trump signed an executive order Tuesday ordering meat processing plants to remain open during the coronavirus pandemic.


The order came two days after the chair of Tyson Foods warned that plant closures could remove millions of pounds of meat from the U.S. supply chain, leading to shortages in grocery stores. But plant workers and labor advocates are concerned the order could put meat-industry employees at greater risk.

"To me it's just putting more people in danger. He is not concerned about the people's life and well-being," Robert Hope, a 59-year-old worker at a Tyson plant in Camilla, Georgia who has been on unpaid leave since March 18 due to a heart condition that makes him vulnerable to the virus, told The New York Times.

The executive order designates meat production facilities as "critical infrastructure" and was issued under the Defense Production Act. The Labor Department and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) also issued guidelines that will protect plants that remain open from liability. The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW) said at least 13 plants had closed over the past two months, leading to a 25 percent drop in pork production capacity and a 10 percent drop for beef, CNN reported.

"Such closures threaten the continued functioning of the national meat and poultry supply chain, undermining critical infrastructure during the national emergency," the executive order said, as BBC News reported. "Given the high volume of meat and poultry processed by many facilities, any unnecessary closures can quickly have a large effect on the food supply chain."

But the closures came because the virus that causes COVID-19 was spreading rapidly between employees in plants where crowded working conditions make social distancing difficult. A Tyson pork plant in Waterloo, Iowa closed after more than 180 infections were linked to it, NBC News reported. That was nearly half of the cases reported in Iowa's Black Hawk County. Similarly, a Smithfield Foods pork plant in Sioux Falls, South Dakota closed after its employees accounted for 238 of the state's 626 cases.

All told, more than 5,000 meatpacking workers have sickened and at least 20 have died, UFCW said Tuesday.

The union, which represents 250,000 workers in the industry, issued a statement calling on the administration to ensure workers are protected while plants stay open.

"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," union president Marc Perrone said. "Simply put, we cannot have a secure food supply without the safety of these workers."

He called for measures like ensuring worker access to the national stockpile of personal protective equipment, ensuring access to daily testing for workers and communities, enforcing social distancing guidelines and providing paid leave to any employees who fall ill.

OSHA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued new guidelines Sunday for keeping meatpacking workers safe, The New York Times reported, such as requiring workers to move through plants single file and placing workstations six feet apart, but worker advocacy groups point out that compliance is voluntary.

"It's a guideline. It's not a regulation. They can do whatever they want," Food & Water Watch lobbyist Tony Corbo told The New York Times. "The people are still standing next to one another in these plants. They're still getting sick."

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) launched a petition calling on the administration to keep slaughterhouses closed.

"For the sake of human health and in 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 at this time," the organization wrote.

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter


Democrats in the House and Senate have introduced legislation to ban some of the most toxic pesticides currently in use in the U.S. D-Keine / E+ / Getty Images

By Jake Johnson

Democrats in the House and Senate on Tuesday introduced sweeping legislation that would ban some of the most toxic pesticides currently in use in the U.S. and institute stronger protections for farmworkers and communities that have been exposed to damaging chemicals by the agriculture industry.

Read More Show Less
A British Petroleum petrol station on March 10, 2017, in Ciudad Satelite, Naucalpan de Juarez municipality, Mexico State. The company will reportedly start to offer electric vehicle recharging stations at its retail gasoline stations. RONALDO SCHEMIDT / AFP via Getty Images

BP, the energy giant that grew from oil and gas production, is taking its business in a new direction, announcing Tuesday that it will slash its oil and gas production by 40 percent and increase its annual investment in low-carbon technology to $5 billion, a ten-fold increase over its current level, according to CNN.

Read More Show Less
Recycled paper at the Northern Adelaide Waste Management Authority's recycling site piles up in Edinburgh, Australia, on April 17, 2019. Brenton Edwards / AFP / Getty Images

By Alex Thornton

The Australian government has announced a A$190 million (US$130 million) investment in the nation's first Recycling Modernization Fund, with the aim of transforming the country's waste and recycling industry. The hope is that as many as 10,000 jobs can be created in what is being called a "once in a generation" opportunity to remodel the way Australia deals with its waste.

Read More Show Less
President Trump displays his signature after signing The Great American Outdoors Act on August 4, 2020. The White House

The Great American Outdoors Act is now the law of the land.

Read More Show Less
The aftermath from the 2017 Tubbs Fire in Santa Rosa, which killed 22 people in California's Sonoma and Napa counties. The National Guard / Flickr / CC by 2.0

By Andrew J. Whelton and Caitlin R. Proctor

In recent years wildfires have entered urban areas, causing breathtaking destruction.

Read More Show Less
The Wildlife from Space project uses satellite technology to identify, count and monitor species such as emperor penguins in Antarctica. British Antarctic Survey / YouTube

New satellite images have revealed 11 new throngs of emperor penguin colonies, lifting the number of known emperor penguin colonies by 20 percent and their total population by 5 to 10 percent, according to The Guardian.

Read More Show Less

Trending

Saturn's moon, Enceladus, is one of three moons that appear to contain subsurface oceans underneath an icy shell. Marc Van Norden / NASA / Flickr / CC by 2.0

By Zulfikar Abbany

"We don't have a definition of life," says Kevin Peter Hand, one early California morning when we speak via video. "We don't actually know what life is."

Read More Show Less