April 28, 2020
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Hannah Packman, 202.554.1600
WASHINGTON – Invoking the Defense Production Act, President Donald Trump today announced that he plans to sign an executive order requiring meat processing facilities to continue operating through the coronavirus pandemic. The order, which designates such facilities as “critical infrastructure,” is expected to absolve the companies who own them from liability for illnesses or deaths among workers.
The decision follows the closure of more than a dozen plants due to coronavirus outbreaks. As a result, national meat processing capacity has fallen by 20 percent, costing family farmers and ranchers key markets and risking meat shortages at grocery stores. Though National Farmers Union (NFU) shares the president’s concerns around maintaining food system infrastructure, the organization is equally concerned with the health and wellbeing of meat plant employees, as NFU President Rob Larew emphasized in a statement:
“Meat processing facilities are critical for farmers’ livelihoods and national food security – something that has become especially clear as dozens of these plants have closed or slowed production in recent weeks. We are immensely worried about the financial implications for rural communities and the nutritional and economic implications for American consumers, and we sincerely appreciate efforts to address those issues.
“That being said, such efforts should not occur at the expense of meat plant workers. These workers work in close quarters and often lack access to appropriate protective equipment or paid sick leave, making them among the most vulnerable to coronavirus. More than 4,000 have tested positive for the virus, and at least 19 have died. Their health and lives are not an acceptable tradeoff for our meat supply, nor are these things mutually exclusive – we must find solutions that protect both.
“Most immediately, meat plant workers need personal protective equipment and other safeguards, access to testing and treatment, and paid sick leave. But in the longer-term, we need to completely rethink this economic model. Both the abuses that workers are enduring as well as the disruptions farmers and consumers are experiencing are a direct result of extreme consolidation in the meat industry. The good news is that the best mechanism to secure our food supply and protect workers is one and the same: antitrust enforcement. National Farmers Union has been calling for greater oversight for years, to little avail. We hope that this current crisis finally compels Congress and the administration to address the issue of market power in the agriculture industry and promote a diverse and resilient food system.”
Download audio of Rob Larew’s quote here.
National Farmers Union advocates on behalf of nearly 200,000 American farm families and their communities. We envision a world in which farm families and their communities are respected, valued, and enjoy economic prosperity and social justice.
Look for us online at NFU.org and on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
Thank you to the National Farmers Union for speaking out on behalf of the workers in the meat industry. We have all seen the evidence that President Trump values money above human lives and his decree to put workers in harm’s way is just another example of this. If we have to, we will forego meat as part of our diet so that our fellow human beings can take some time off while changes are made so that workers don’t have to die performing their jobs. We need change in this country and it’s coming from the people who are on the front lines and we’re saying, “Enough is enough.” The terrible policy of not caring for the workers along with the perception of the possibly tainted meat being prepared by those who are sick will dissuade us from buying the meat and will let the market speak instead of Trump.