Trump Using Defense Production Act To Block Meat Plant Closures


For weeks, public health authorities and medical staffers around the U.S. have been begging for the president to use the Defense Production Act to compel the production of needed supplies like personal protective equipment. Now, he’s revealed that he will be newly invoking the Act — but he will be, under its provisions, designating meat processing plants as critical infrastructure and thereby forcing them to remain open. Amidst the Coronavirus-induced social distancing demands, there have been fears of drastic cuts to the nation’s meat supply because of plant closures, which Tyson Foods chairman John Tyson sounded an alarm over in a full-page ad that appeared in The New York Times this week.

During a press conference alongside Florida’s Republican Governor Ron DeSantis at the White House this Tuesday, Trump told reporters:

‘We’re working with Tyson. We’re going to sign an executive order today I believe, and that will solve any liability problems, and they had certain liability problems… 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. There’s plenty of supply.’

Asked to explain more of the nature of his impending executive order set to designate meat processing plants as critical infrastructure, Trump indicated that the step would be addressing “sort of a legal roadblock more than anything else.” That’s not entirely correct — slashes to the nation’s meat supply of up to 80 percent, as has been feared possible, would have potentially devastating effects. Food shortages could thereby ensue amidst the pandemic.

In his ad for the Times, which appeared in the paper’s Sunday edition, Tyson Foods’s John Tyson insisted:

‘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. 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. 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.’

This week, Trump insisted that there was plenty of supply to go around. Concurrent to the administration’s order for meat processing plants to remain open, there’s talk of them rolling out guidelines for workers like those who are 65 and older — who seem to be most at risk from the virus — to stay home. The White House will be working 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,” a senior administration official says.

Yet, the administration has been failing to provide adequate safety protections for workers in other fields. Medical staff have had to work without adequate personal protective equipment, and the president and his allies have even repeatedly complained about requests for assistance, even as stories have continued to accumulate of the desperate conditions in which many have been working.