Trump Signs Order Keeping Mega-Meat Packers Open; Agriculture Leaders Seek Transformed Meat Sector
April 29, 2020 (EIRNS)—Last evening President Donald Trump signed an Executive Order saying, “the Secretary of Agriculture shall take all appropriate action ... to ensure that meat and poultry processors continue operations consistent with the guidance for their operations jointly issued by the CDC and OSHA. Under the delegation of authority provided in this order, the Secretary of Agriculture may identify additional specific food supply chain resources that meet the criteria” of the relevant section of the 1950 National Defense Production Act.
Labor representatives are leery, with good reason, of what the working conditions will be, as the “normal” conditions had been notoriously bad and underpaid.
As of yesterday, 20 big packers were closed, with some 6,600 workers out, either infected with coronavirus, or staying away to avoid it. It is reported that 20 workers and 2 meat inspectors have died.
Farm leaders are speaking out that the whole system should be transformed. The mega-plants should be kept in operation only until they can be phased out, and a new regionalized system put up, comprised of many dispersed packing houses, capable of bio-security and disease-containment when trouble comes; and providing decent working conditions and wholesome, fresh product for the regional population.
Trump’s order specified that the Agriculture Secretary is to set “proper nationwide priorities and allocation of all the materials, services, and facilities necessary to ensure the continued supply of meat and poultry.” The Agriculture Department posted a press release last night stating its intent to comply with the order. This morning Trump met with 20 food and farm representatives, including the cartel packers Tyson Foods, Smithfield Foods (WH Group), and others. So far, there have been no announcements of indemnities to the farmers and ranchers for their lost stock, for the low prices for what they could sell, nor of deployments by FEMA or the National Guard to aid in sanitation and other logistics. Two weeks ago, Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds deployed 250 National Guardsmen to the plants to help.
Today, Rep. Collin Peterson (D-MN) called for full indemnity for the farmers whose stock must be euthanized. Mass euthanizing of hogs is now underway at the Worthington packing plant in Minnesota. Peterson said that the Agriculture Department’s Commodity Credit Corp. should receive a full $68 billion to compensate all farmers, or they will go under.
When the virus hit, the packing houses became hot spots for COVID-19 in their counties. Local health authorities wanted them shut. State government wanted the plants open, because of the disastrous impact on farmers and the states’ economies. For example, one-third of all the pork in the U.S. is processed in Iowa, not counting the South Dakota and Minnesota packing houses. Farm state officials rushed test kits and gear to the counties where packers are located for the plants, but the situation was already intolerable.
With the processing facilities shut, there was no place for farmers and ranchers to send their livestock for processing. The national meat-processing system had been so concentrated, operating on “just in time” strategy, that, along with elimination of reserve storage and government-supervised stockpiles over recent decades, it all fell apart within a few weeks.
No other sector of farming or the food chain, except for meat, is addressed in the order—neither milk, nor specialty crops, much of which is also now being destroyed for want of a price, processing, and handling.
In the short term, some of the mega-plants will aid in euthanizing the stock that can’t be processed due to the backlog. At the same time, processing will resume at different times and locations. Yesterday, President Trump spoke of reassurance to the cartel firms, that they will not be hit with liability claims for whatever happens.