Tyson warns of coronavirus-related USA meat shortages as livestock plants shutdown

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"Such closures threaten the continued functioning of the national meat and poultry supply chain, undermining critical infrastructure during the national emergency", says Tuesday evening's executive order, invoking the 1950 Defense Production Act.

Trump acted one day after Iowa's two USA senators and its governor urged the administration to invoke the DPA to keep meatpackers open and reopen closed facilities "as soon as it is possible to do so safely".

COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, has infected hundreds of workers at meat-processing plants and forced some of the largest to close and others to slow production.

The Trump administration has already waived regulations limiting meat-processing line speeds and tried to cut farm and food workers' pay, and Trump's Occupational and Safety Health Administration has done little or nothing to ensure these essential workers are protected from the virus and its impacts.

The order comes after industry leaders warned that consumers could see meat shortages in a matter of days after workers at major facilities tested positive for the virus.

"In addition to meat shortages, this is a serious food waste issue", Tyson claimed in an open letter published as a full-page ad in Sunday's New York Times, Washington Post and Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

Trump was referring to Tyson Food Inc, which suspended operations of its largest pork production plant last week.

The Associated Press reported a senior White House official confirmed the administration was working to prevent a majority of processing plants from shutting down for an extended period, potentially leading to an 80% drop in the availability of meat.

After testing over 600 employees at the plant, it was re-opened.

U.S. Rep. Cindy Axne said any order from Trump or a company to stay open needs to come with "ironclad answers" on how employees will be protected.

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Trump added: "It was a very unique circumstance because of liability".

"It's sort of a legal roadblock more than anything else", he said.

As a part of the order and its implementation, the White House plans to work with the Department of Labor to provide additional liability protections and safety measures for food supply workers.

"People should never be expected to put their lives at risk by going to work", said Stuart Appelbaum, president of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union.

The executive order will also minimize the liability that companies face if workers contract COVID-19 when they are required to come into work.

On April 20, Nafissa Cisse Egbuonye, health director of Black Hawk County, Iowa, said 90 percent of the then-356 cases in the county were tied to Waterloo plant workers.

Iowa pork producers have warned that they will have to destroy pigs that they're unable to move to meatpacking plants.

Factory closures have severe domino effects for rural communities. The plant closed over the weekend to undergo a deep cleaning.

Yet concerns about working conditions persist and have led some to walk off the job.

Facing alarming rates of the novel coronavirus among workers in the often tightly packed workspaces, some suppliers have closed down.

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