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Perdue says meatpacking disruptions have 'turned the corner'

May 07, 2020

Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue expressed confidence at a White House meeting Wednesday that the meat shortages that have forced supermarkets to limit purchases should ease as meatpacking plants fully reopen within the next 10 days. 

“I think we've turned the corner. We'll see them coming back on line. Obviously, because of some infected employees, they won’t be full force for a while, but we think the stores will be -- you’ll see more variety and more meat cases fully supplied," Perdue said at the Oval Office meeting that included President Donald Trump, Vice President Mike Pence and Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds. 

Trump then pressed Perdue for a timetable. Perdue replied, "I’d say probably a week to 10 days where it’s fully back up."

Reynolds said plants in Iowa continue running at reduced capacity but that only one facility, a Tyson Foods pork processing plant at Waterloo, remains closed. A Tyson pork plant at Perry, where 58% of the workers tested positive for COVID-19, is running at 60% capacity, she said. 

“We'll have most of our facilities up and going. And so as we continue to keep them up and processing, we're going to hopefully prevent a really sorry situation where we were euthanizing some of our protein supply and really impacting the food supply, across the country but throughout the world and so this is critical infrastructure is an essential workforce,” Reynolds said.

Pence, who heads the White House coronavirus task force, defended the administration’s management of the crisis, noting that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has sent a team to any plant where there is an outbreak to make sure that working conditions are safe. 

“Our objective is two equal goals: No 1 is the safety and health of the workforce in our meat processing plants, and to ensure there’s strength in our food supply and getting people back to work,” Pence said. 

Trump was asked by reporters about beef being taken off the menus at some Wendy's locations. “I’m going to call Nelson Peltz,” the chairman of The Wendy’s Co., Trump said.

Perdue has issued a pair of letters to governors and meat processors saying that plants that have slowed operations or shut their doors due to the COVID-19 pandemic needed to develop plans for reopening them. 

Pork and beef processing capacity was down by 40% from last year at the end of April, according to a new report by CoBank, which predicted that meat shortages could persist into the summer. 

By: Phillip Brasher

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