President Trump on Thursday downplayed the meat shortage crisis that is expected to unfold across America in the first and second week in May. He said he's "not at all" worried about the food supply chain. Despite Tyson Foods on Sunday, in a full-page ad in the New York Times, warned that the nation's "food supply chain is breaking."
Perhaps President Trump feels confident because he signed an executive order invoking the Defense Production Act to force meatpacking plants to stay open. The president said he expects the food supply chain to be stronger than ever.
Bloomberg quoted USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue as saying shuttered meatpacking plants will be operational in "days not weeks" thanks to the president's executive order.
Perdue said workers at meatpacking facilities would receive a new attire that includes the protective gear that will better shield them from COVID-19.
So far, at least 12 meatpacking plants have closed in April because of virus-related shutdowns among employees. This has resulted in at least 25% of pork and 10% of beef processing capacity to shift offline in the last several weeks, which is expected to trigger a meat shortage.
Already, the shutdowns have led to unprecedented food inflation for beef prices.
While the president downplays the incoming shortage of meat, Perdue said the national shortfall in meat production is between 20% to 30%, to be narrowed to "10% to 15% within a week to 10 days." He added as plants come back online, operating capacity will be reduced through the ramp-up period.
"There will be some less production, some inefficiency based on line speeds, some employees that will not be able to come back to work," Perdue said.
Under the executive order, the USDA can force meat processing plants to reopen, Perdue said. Still, as we noted over the weekend, labor shortages could develop as line workers don't feel comfortable knowing the virus continues to spread at facilities.
"Worker health and safety is the first priority here," Perdue said. "We want to assure the workers and the community of their safety."
The United Food and Commercial Workers Union said at least 20 meatpacking workers have died from the virus, with at least 6,500 infected in the last two months.