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With food supply chain at risk, President Trump will order meat processing plants to stay open

'We see it as an urgent need'

Andy Cross/MediaNews Group/The Denver Post via Getty Image

President Donald Trump plans to order meat processing plants to remain open amid the coronavirus outbreak as a wave of recent plant closures have put America's food supply chain at great risk.

The president will issue the order under the Defense Production Act, a White House official told Axios Tuesday. The forthcoming order will label processing plants as "critical infrastructure."

The move comes as dozens of large processing plants in several states have closed recently over COVID-19 concerns. The trend of closures spanning the beef, pork, poultry, and fish industries is pushing America toward a dangerous food supply shortage.

Earlier this month, Kenneth Sullivan, the president and CEO of Smithfield Foods, warned that snowballing closures were moving the country "perilously close to the edge in terms of our meat supply."

"The food supply chain is breaking," Tyson Foods Chairman John Tyson added in letters published by the New York Times, Washington Post, and Arkansas Democrat-Gazette on Sunday. Tyson Foods, which is the world's second largest meat producer, warned that "millions of pounds of meat" would soon disappear from the market.

Tyson Foods, along with other major processing companies, were reportedly planning to keep as little as 20% of their facilities operational, according to the White House official who spoke with Axios.

"The vast majority of processing plants could have shut down, reducing processing capacity in the country by as much as 80%," the official 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 from the fallout of COVID."

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.

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