Amid growing concerns of impending meat shortages in grocery stores, President Trump on Thursday signed an Executive Order to keep meat and poultry processing facilities open during the Corona Virus national emergency, according to U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue.
The order uses the Defense Production Act to classify meat processing as critical infrastructure to try to prevent a shortage of chicken, pork and other meat on supermarket shelves. Recent media reports warn of protein shortages and restricting customer purchases.
The impact of the perceived shortages is also reflected by the U.S. military. Starting today, military commissaries within the 50 states and in Puerto Rico will limit purchases of fresh beef, poultry and pork, according to an announcement by the Defense Commissary Agency on Thursday . For fresh beef, pork, chicken and turkey, customers will be limited to purchasing two items per visit.
“There may be some shortages of fresh protein products in the coming weeks,” Robert Bianchi, a retired Navy rear admiral and the Defense Department’s special assistant for commissary operations, said in a statement. “Enacting this policy now will help ensure that all of our customers have an opportunity to purchase these products on an equitable basis.”
Placing limits on quantities is meant to stave off panic buying, which resulted in buyers hoarding toilet paper when media outlets reported that shortages would occur across the nation.
The [Executive] action comes in response to a spate of closures of major meat processing facilities operated by industry giants Tyson, Smithfield and Perdue. “Such closures threaten the continued functioning of the national meat and poultry supply chain, undermining critical infrastructure during the national emergency,” the order states.
“The food supply chain is breaking,” company chairman John Tyson said in a full-page ad that appeared in the New York Times April 26.
Secretary Perdue released a statement saying, “I thank President Trump for signing this executive order and recognizing the importance of keeping our food supply chain safe, secure, and plentiful. Our nation’s meat and poultry processing facilities play an integral role in the continuity of our food supply chain.” .
The EO has received pushback from Unions and environmental groups, citing health hazards to workers and the food chain itself. Environmental Working Group called the order a potential death sentence. The United Food and Commercial Workers union said in a statement that if workers aren’t safe, the food supply won’t be either.
“People should never be expected to put their lives at risk by going to work,” said Stuart Appelbaum, President of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union. “If they can’t be assured of their safety, they have every right to make their concerns heard by their employers.”