President Trump will order meat processing plants to remain open to avoid food shortages, White House sources tell The Post.
Trump will take the unprecedented action after food processors closed plants in response to coronavirus outbreaks among workers.
Trump is expected to sign an executive order Tuesday that declares meat processing plants critical infrastructure under the Defense Production Act and thus bars them from closing during the pandemic emergency.
The order will include guidance from the Department of Labor intended to provide liability protections to companies.
“The EO compels plants to stay open,” one source said. “We see it as an urgent need and there should not be a panic on food supply at a moment when our country is embarking on the path of recovery.”
The source said that the White House will work with the Department of Labor to encourage older and other at-risk workers to remain home.
“If you take the precautions with those that are older workers, the White House believes there’s an ample supply of workers fitting a profile that is younger and healthier to adequately keep working at a low risk,” the source said. “This assessment is based on consultation with experts in the field as well as medical guidance.”
A second source said, “the government will provide additional protective gear for employees as well as guidance.”
Trump teased the executive order in an afternoon exchange with reporters in the Oval Office.
“We’re working with Tyson. We’re going to sign an executive order today, I believe, and that will solve any liability problems,” Trump said.
Trump did not outline the specifics of the order, but said it would help ensure the US food supply is not disrupted by the COVID-19 crisis.
“We’re working with Tyson, which is one of the big companies in that world. And we always work with the farmers. There is plenty of supply, there is plenty of, as you know, there’s plenty of supply — it’s distribution and we will probably have that today solved.”
Trump added: “It was a very unique circumstance because of liability.”
Republicans and some White House officials had pushed Trump to shield companies after outbreaks of the coronavirus at meatpacking plants forced some to close.
John Tyson, Tyson’s board chairman, warned in newspaper ads Sunday that “the food supply chain is breaking,” after the company closed a pork packing plant in Iowa,
“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 warned.
Democrats, who previously resisted a liability shield for N-95 face mask manufacturers, are wary of granting food companies liability protection.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said he was skeptical of liability protections pushed by Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.
Schumer said Tuesday: “Is he saying that if an owner tells a worker they have to work next to somebody who might have coronavirus without a mask or PPE, that that owner wouldn’t be liable? That makes no sense.”