Quantcast
Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life

Trump Orders Meat Plants to Stay Open During Pandemic

Food
Trump Orders Meat Plants to Stay Open During Pandemic
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.

Rescript the Future is WaterBear's global script writing competition focused on building a better future. WaterBear

"Watch. Connect. Take Action."

These words are the invitation and mandate of the WaterBear Network, a free film-streaming platform that launched in November of 2020. Its goal is to turn inspirational images of the natural world into actions to save it.

Read More Show Less

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

The Sunrise Movement launched its "Good Jobs for All" campaign that guarantees a good job to anyone who wants one and puts the country on a path toward a Green New Deal. Image Source / Getty Images

By Kenny Stancil

Amid the ongoing climate emergency and the devastating coronavirus pandemic that has resulted in more than 500,000 deaths in the U.S. alone as well as an economic meltdown that has left millions of people unemployed, the Sunrise Movement on Thursday launched its "Good Jobs for All" campaign to demand that lawmakers pursue a robust recovery that guarantees a good job to anyone who wants one and puts the country on a path toward a Green New Deal.

Read More Show Less

Trending

The study identified chinook salmon as among the species of high concern that are frequently ingesting plastic.
bpperry / Getty Images

By Tara Lohan

Each year the amount of plastic swirling in ocean gyres and surfing the tide toward coastal beaches seems to increase. So too does the amount of plastic particles being consumed by fish — including species that help feed billions of people around the world.

Read More Show Less
An Edith's Checkerspot butterfly in Los Padres National Forest in Southern California. Patricia Marroquin / Moment / Getty Images

Butterflies across the U.S. West are disappearing, and now researchers say the climate crisis is largely to blame.

Read More Show Less
A wildfire burns in the Hollywood hills on July 19, 2016 in Hollywood, California. AaronP / Bauer-Griffin / GC Images

California faces another "critically dry year" according to state officials, and a destructive wildfire season looms on its horizon. But in a state that welcomes innovation, water efficacy approaches and drought management could replenish California, increasingly threatened by the climate's new extremes.

Read More Show Less