President Trump orders meat-packing plants to reopen

Apr 29, 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic has hit the meat supply so badly President Trump has ordered plants to reopen even if closed because of rampant coronavirus illness among workers.

Major meat processing plants have been shut, sometimes for weeks, because of the illness and the need to clean plants which are inherently messy. Workers stand shoulder to shoulder and cut animals apart to separate the different cuts of meat.

Workers have been told by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention they must practice social distancing. However, unions representing workers say it can't work both ways. At least 20 workers in union meat plants have died from the virus. Thousands of workers are sick.

The toll is visible on the shelves and in the coolers of local supermarkets. In a written statement, Wegmans said it does not expect to see a shortage of meat, but customers may well not find every cut or variety of meat over the next few weeks. The supermarket chain suggests seafood or frozen food as an alternative while it tries to find different sources for cuts that aren't plentiful.

Federal agencies have been investigating plants with large numbers of worker exposures inside. Up to one-quarter of the country's pork slaughter capacity has been closed at some point in the last two months and 10% of the beef capacity.

Trump issued his executive order Tuesday under the Defense Production Act, ordering closed plants to re-open, calling them "critical infrastructure." The same law is used to control manufacture of personal protective equipment for healthcare workers.