US President Donald Trump has signed an order that will keep meat and poultry processing facilities open during the Covid-19 outbreak there.

Commenting on this development, the US secretary of agriculture, Sonny Perdue, said: “I thank President Trump for signing this executive order and recognising the importance of keeping our food supply chain safe, secure and plentiful.

“Maintaining the health and safety of these heroic employees in order to ensure that these critical facilities can continue operating is paramount. I also want to thank the companies who are doing their best to keep their workforce safe as well as keeping our food supply sustained,” Perdue added.

The USDA [United States Department of Agriculture] will continue to work with its partners across the federal government to ensure employee safety to maintain this essential industry.

US government agencies have put in place guidance on how meat processors in the country should operate in the face of Covid-19.

The order from Trump states that: “It is important that processors of beef, pork, and poultry in the food supply chain continue operating and fulfilling orders to ensure a continued supply of protein for Americans.

“However, outbreaks of Covid-19 among workers at some processing facilities have led to the reduction in some of those facilities’ production capacity,” it added.

The order went on to say that the decisions by some US states which led to the closure of some plants “threaten the continued functioning of the national meat and poultry supply chain, undermining critical infrastructure during the national emergency”.

“Given the high volume of meat and poultry processed by many facilities, any unnecessary closures can quickly have a large effect on the food supply chain. For example, the closure of a single large beef processing facility can result in the loss of over 10 million individual servings of beef in a single day,” the order outlined.

Food shortages

Fears over food shortages in the US reached new heights over the last couple of weeks, with Smithfield Foods, the world’s largest pork producer, announcing last Friday, April 24, that one of its plants in the state of Illinois would close temporarily.

A Smithfield statement that day said: “During this pandemic, our entire industry is faced with an impossible choice: Continue to operate to sustain our nation’s food supply, or shutter in an attempt to entirely insulate our employees from risk.

“It’s an awful choice; it’s not one we wish on anyone,” the statement added.

It is impossible to keep protein on tables across America if our nation’s meat plants are not running. Across the animal protein industry, closures can have severe, perhaps disastrous, repercussions up and down the supply chain. Beyond the implications to our food supply, our entire agricultural community is in jeopardy.

Smithfield also warned that livestock producers may soon be force to euthanise animals.