Trump to sign meat plant exec order but meets criticism
President Donald Trump signed an executive order using the Defense Production Act to order that meat plants to stay open during the pandemic and to address liability questions, Bloomberg, The Washington Post and the Associated Press reported.
Senate Agriculture Committee ranking member Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., called Trump’s order “shortsighted.”
“The way we keep our food supply chain safe is to keep our workers safe. Last week, I called on the Trump administration to implement a proactive plan to protect workers and our food supply, and once again they have failed,” Stabenow said in a statement.
“First and foremost, we need to protect essential employees in order to continue food production and processing. Instead of using the Defense Production Act in a way that could put workers at risk, it should be used to produce supplies that will protect employees and our nation’s food supply.
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“The president’s shortsighted action could put more workers in harm’s way and continue to damage our food processing capacity,” Stabenow concluded.
National Council of Farmer Cooperatives President and CEO Chuck Conner, a former agriculture deputy secretary, commended the administration for invoking the DPA to keep meat processing facilities open, but added, “Having lived through the BSE crisis while at USDA and having had to make some tough calls at that time, I know that today’s decision, while necessary, was not easy. In the days ahead, there will be more hard choices to be made. NCFC and our co-op members remain committed to doing everything within our abilities to protect our food supply and ensure the viability of our farmers and ranchers.”
J.D. Scholten, the Democratic candidate running against Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, slammed the decision.
“More than 6,500 meatpacking workers have been affected by COVID-19, which has already killed nearly 60,000 Americans,” Scholten said. “In fact, the top five locations in the country with the highest daily growth rate of COVID-19 cases, including my hometown of Sioux City, are all linked to outbreaks at meatpacking plants. Ordering these meatpacking plants to stay open not only is a willing sacrifice of these workers, but also of the surrounding communities — all to pad the profits of multinational corporations like Tyson Foods and JBS. We need to protect the security and stability of our food supply chain, but not at the expense of our workers and farmers. We must prioritize worker safety and our farmers in the next federal aid package.”
Stuart Appelbaum, president of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, said in a statement, “We only wish that this administration cared as much about the lives of working people as it does about meat, pork and poultry products. When poultry plants shut down, it’s for deep cleaning and to save workers’ lives.
“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. Employers and government must do better. If they want to keep the meat and poultry supply chain healthy, they need to make sure that workers are safe and healthy.”
Environmental Working Group Senior Vice President for Government Affairs Scott Faber said, “Sending workers back to meat-processing plants without proper protection is tantamount to a death sentence.
“Rather than escalating this danger with reckless fiats, President Trump should be ensuring food and farm workers have adequate PPE, plenty of space to work safely and free testing – not to mention paid sick leave and medical care if they do get sick.
“These workers have been on the front lines throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, risking their lives to feed the rest of us. President Trump should order OSHA to issue immediate, urgent standards to protect them.”
Sen. Mike Rounds, R-S.D., wrote Trump Monday urging him to use the DPA to keep the plants open. ❖
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