US President Donald Trump has ordered meat-processing plants to stay open in a bid to protect the US food supply, despite concerns about Covid-19 outbreaks in the country.
The President received backlash from multiple unions voicing concerns that returning workers would face greater risk from the virus and require more protection.
Trump invoked an executive order under the Defense Protection Act to enforce plans to keep plants open. The order will give companies legal cover with liability protection should employees fall ill with the virus at work.
Major meat companies, including Smithfield Foods, Cargill, JBS USA and Tyson Foods had shut down operations in North America as a handful of workers fell sick with Covid-19 in March.
While plants initially remained open and continued to run with added safety measures, pressure from local health officials and unions resulted in many voluntary closures.
This has in turn caused global concern of a meat shortage. Trump told reporters in the Oval Office that “such closures threaten the continued functioning of the national meat and poultry supply chain, undermining critical infrastructure during the national emergency”.
The order, released on Tuesday 28 April stated that the closure of one large beef-processing plant could result in 10 million fewer servings of beef per day in the country.
The news comes just days after Tyson Foods, one of the largest meat processors in the US, ran paid content on some national media platforms, declaring that the food supply was “broken”.
While unable to comment on the order, spokesman for Tyson Foods, Gary Mickelson, told CNN: “We can tell you our top priority remains the safety (of) our team members and plant communities while we work to continue fulfilling our role of feeding families across the country.”
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