President Trump plans to issue an executive order Tuesday that would use the Defense Production Act to compel meat processing plants to stay open by designating them as critical infrastructure, according to a senior administration official.
The White House plans to work with the Labor Department to “provide safety standards and guidance for workers to make sure they are kept safe and not put in harm’s way as they serve the public,” the official said.
The White House decided to issue the order, the details of which were first reported by Bloomberg News, following estimates that meat production capacity nationwide could be reduced by as much as 80 percent.
Trump told reporters in the Oval Office earlier Tuesday that he planned to sign an executive order to address “liability problems” related to the food supply chain and specifically mentioned Tyson Foods. The order will apply to all meat processing plants in the U.S.
The White House is also considering working with the Labor Department to issue guidance for those most at risk for complications due to COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, such as urging workers who are older than 65 to stay home.
“We’re working with Tyson,” Trump told reporters during an Oval Office meeting Tuesday with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) when asked about the nation’s food supply. “We’re going to sign an executive order today I believe, and that will solve any liability problems, and they had certain liability problems.”
The decision to issue the order comes after the chairman of Tyson Foods warned that the nation’s food supply chain was “breaking” as a result of the coronavirus outbreak, which has forced food processing plants to close and raised concerns about shortages.
“In small communities around the country where we employ over 100,000 hard-working men and women, we’re being forced to shutter our doors. This means one thing – the food supply chain is vulnerable,” John Tyson wrote in a full-page advertisement in Sunday editions of The New York Times and other publications.
“As pork, beef and chicken plants are being forced to close, even for short periods of time, millions of pounds of meat will disappear from the supply chain,” Tyson wrote. “As a result, there will be limited supply of our products available in grocery stores until we are able to reopen our facilities that are currently closed.”
Smithfield Foods, a major pork processor, was also forced to temporarily shutter some facilities due to coronavirus infections reported there, raising concerns about forthcoming pork shortages.
Still, Trump insisted Tuesday there was plenty of food in supply but said distribution was a concern and that Tyson was facing a “very unique circumstance because of liability.”
“We’ll be in very good shape. we’re working with Tyson which is one of the big companies in the world and we always work with the farmers,” the president said. “There’s plenty of supply.”
Asked later to elaborate on the executive order, Trump said it was “sort of a legal roadblock more than anything else."