Coronavirus: Trump orders meat producers to stay open

29 April 2020

US president Donald Trump has ordered meat production plants to stay open over concerns the food supply chain is suffering as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. 

Trump said it is important for processors of beef, pork, and poultry to operate and fulfil orders to ensure the continued supply of meat in the US. 

The executive order came as major meat producer in the US Tyson warned the ‘food supply chain is breaking’. Several processing plants around the country had closed after employees were found to have contracted the virus.

In an executive order the president said: “Such closures threaten the continued functioning of the national meat and poultry supply chain, undermining critical infrastructure during the national emergency. 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. 

“Under the delegation of authority provided in this order, the secretary of agriculture shall take all appropriate action … to ensure that meat and poultry processors continue operations.”

However, the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW), America’s largest meatpacking union, said worker safety must be put first.

UFCW president Marc Perrone said: “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 [personal protective equipment], 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.”

Meanwhile, the UK government has been urged to protect the British dairy industry which has been “hit severely” by the pandemic. 

The National Farmers’ Union (NFU) said the closure of foodservice and hospitality outlets as a result of the UK lockdown has meant the loss of 8m litres of milk a week, and a quarter of dairy farmers in England and Wales have already been hit financially.

NFU dairy board chairman Michael Oakes said: “I’m speaking to dairy farmers every day who’ve hit rock bottom, many significantly impacted by the huge disturbances in the market and now facing deferred payments, uncollected milk and changes to contracts.

“It’s not just cash flow that’s affected. We have also seen a raft of price cuts to dairy farmers on the back of the market disturbances. 

“Defra [Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs] and the government have to grasp the seriousness of the situation. That’s why we are encouraging dairy farmers and the public to write and engage with their local MPs to ensure they are aware of the issues and the actions needed to avoid irreparable damage to the dairy supply chain.”

Marks & Spencer has outlined steps it is taking to support British farmers throughout the pandemic including the guarantee a fair price for the milk it buys and a pledge to “purchase the volume it has committed to regardless of customer demand”. 

The retailer has committed investing in product development and increasing promotions on beef products in order to support the British beef industry and to buying 100% of the lamb it sells from British farms by June 2020.

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