Missouri’s governor is also a cattle rancher, so he’s familiar with how meat production works. That’s why he says he’s supporting President Donald Trump’s order to classify meat processing facilities as essential infrastructure in spite of the fact that many have seen COVID-19 outbreaks and there are calls to shut them down.
“We’ve got to keep the food chain going,” Republican Gov. Mike Parson said Tuesday, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
The newspaper noted that the governor “has a herd of about 100 cattle at his farm near Bolivar. While he is in Jefferson City, his son oversees the operation.” The Post-Dispatch referred to him as “Missouri’s cattle-farmer-in-chief.”
Parson made the comments just hours before the president signed an executive order designed to keep the plants up and running.
The order is tied to the Defense Production Act — something, it’s worth noting, the Democrats have been urging him to invoke — and hopefully ensures meat processing plants stay open for the next few months.
While the original projection was that our supply chain would be unaffected by the coronavirus, that hasn’t come to pass given that several large meat processing plants have shut down because of COVID-19 infection and large plants make up a high percentage of America’s meat production capacity.
According to Fox News, the 15 largest pork processing plants account for 60 percent of the pork that’s processed. If one goes offline, that’s going to have huge effects on the industry and the food chain.
At least 3,000 workers at 48 plants have tested positive for coronavirus, according to Brownfield Ag News.
Parson is behind the president’s decision to make sure they stay open, even though the order has been the subject of attacks from the left.
“I think that’s a good thing,” he said. “Whatever we do, we’ve got to keep the food chain going in the United States. And for Missouri it’s a huge issue here, so, yes, I want to see them open.”
That’s a herculean challenge, unfortunately.
In Missouri, workers at a Smithfield Foods plant in Milan filed a lawsuit against the company complaining of insufficient protection against COVID-19.
“The lawsuit alleges Smithfield has not provided workers with sufficient protective equipment and requires them to work shoulder to shoulder. It also contends that workers are discouraged from taking sick leave,” the Post-Dispatch reported.
“Smithfield has faced complaints about working conditions at other plants and closed a plant in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, after about 800 workers tested positive for the virus. Other large meat processing companies, such as Tyson Foods and JBS, have closed plants because of infections among workers.”
Tyson was the latest major meat processor to take a hit. At a plant in Indiana, almost 900 workers tested positive for the coronavirus, according to Fox News.
Over the weekend, the food processing giant said in a full-page ad taken out in The New York Times and other newspapers that the food supply chain might collapse under the weight of COVID-19.
“Even as COVID-19 is changing everything, Tyson Foods is rising to the challenge. Over these last few months, our team members have done what they always have: put food on the tables of millions of homes around the country. But we aren’t just feeding the nation; we are feeding communities, our friends, our neighbors – and our own families. I am thankful for our team members’ commitment to something bigger than a job,” Tyson chairman of the board John Tyson said in the ad.
“Now, Tyson Foods is facing a new set of challenges. 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.”
“The food supply chain is breaking,” Tyson Foods warns in a full page ad in NYT today pic.twitter.com/5cyusH6L9V
— Ana Swanson (@AnaSwanson) April 26, 2020
“In addition to meat shortages, this is a serious food waste issue. Farmers across the nation simply will not have anywhere to sell their livestock to be processed, when they could have fed the nation,” Tyson said.
On Tuesday, the president promised to work with Tyson to ensure the supply chain didn’t break under the strain of coronavirus.
“We’re working with Tyson. … We’re going to sign an executive order today, I believe, and that will solve any liability problems where they had certain liability problems,” Trump said. “We’re working with Tyson, which is one of the big companies in that world. And we always work with the farmers. There’s plenty of supply.”
The order reduces liabilities for Tyson and gets personal protective gear to workers at the meat plants — as well as training in using it.
It’ll be a difficult job, but there’s reason to be hopeful — especially given the fact the issue has the White House’s attention now.
That’s something a cattle rancher can understand quite well.
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