Farms coming back online after coronavirus: 'Meat shortages should end within 10 days'

Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue and Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds said farmers' plants should be back to 100% capacity 'in a week to 10 days'

Published: May 6, 2020 3:54pm

Updated: May 6, 2020 5:56pm

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds visited the White House on Wednesday to discuss farming issues, striking a positive tone in a meeting with President Trump and key administration officials.

"We've turned a corner," said Agriculture Secretary Sonny Purdue said during the meeting.

Due to the drastic reduction of the food service industry due to the coronavirus many fields have reportedly been plowed under because of the expense of harvesting and the lack of profit. 

Meat processing plants in the United States have suspended operations because employees getting infected with the coronavirus or showing virus-like symptoms.

Purdue and Reynolds said Wednesday at the White House that plants should be back to 100% capacity in a week to 10 days. Reynolds said that only one Iowa meatpacking plant is shut, in Waterloo.

“We're at reduced capacity. Perry is back up. In fact they're at 60% capacity and we just started the extensive testing last week,” said Reynolds, referring to a Tyson Foods plant in Perry where at least 58% of the workforce reportedly tested positive.

“We'll have most of our facilities up and going," she said. "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.”

Perdue said meat shortages should end within 10 days as meat plants come back on line.

“I think we've turned the corner. We'll see them coming back on line," he said. "I'd say probably a week to 10 days we'll be back up, fully back up."

Vice President Mike Pence said that whenever there’s an outbreak at a meat plant, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention sends a team to ensure safe conditions.

Asked if sufficient steps are being taken to protect workers, given the outbreaks at meat packing plants, Pence responded: “Our objective is two equal goals: No 1 is the safety and health of the workforce in our meat processing plants, and to ensures there’s strength in our food supply and getting people back to work.”

Reynolds echoed that, saying: “They are testing employees as they enter the plants. … They have to have the mask on when they enter the facility. … They’re doing social distancing…. It’s a partnership. We’re all working together… . We’re providing them the confidence of a safe environment but at the same time we’re making sure that the food supply chain is moving and that the country is being fed.”

Trump last month signed an executive order under the Defense Production Act to keep open meat processing plants and keep intact the national food supply chain.

The order makes such facilities part of the country's critical infrastructure. The administration is also working with the Department of Labor on issuing guidance about which employees who work at these meat processing facilities should remain home, including those who are part of populations most vulnerable to the coronavirus.

Pence said Iowa has been a success story during the coronavirus pandemic.

Reynolds was one of five Republican governors who co-authored a Washington Post op-ed Tuesday titled, "Our states stayed open in the COVID-19 pandemic. Here’s why our approach worked."

"While our specific approaches may differ, we have all kept our states 'open for business' and delivered food and other goods Americans need during this pandemic," the governors wrote. "Our collective experience ensures that our contribution toward reopening our nation’s economy is stable, safe and durable. Restarting our economy is not a race to be won but a cooperative effort. Our approach has created a model for success that can be applied throughout the country."

Reynolds said at the White House that Iowa has tested one in 50 Iowans.

"We are testing in hotspots," she said.
Trump said: "In a way by doing all this testing we make ourselves look bad. ... We're going to have more cases" because more testing.

Trump asks an Iowa epidemiologist visiting with Reynolds to serve on the White House Coronavirus Task Force, an offer that she accepted.

"I'd love for you to be on the task force," Trump said, assuring the governor this is "not to steal her," just borrow.

The federal government will shore up farmers with a new $19 billion aid package,Trump announced last month. 

The aid package is planned to come in two parts, one is $16 billion in direct payments to farmers, ranchers and producers. The second part of the farmers' aid package includes $3 billion of direct purchases by the federal government from farmers for fresh produce, dairy and meat products. The products will be distributed to needy Americans through food banks and community and faith-based organizations. 

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