President Trump invoked the Defense Production Act on Tuesday to keep livestock processing facilities open, a decisive action that will keep our nation’s food supply chain intact and food on kitchen tables. America’s farmers and ranchers — of which I am one — cheer the president’s bold action.
Something drastic had to be done. Meat producers were headed for the proverbial cliff.
Processing of pigs has drastically slowed, swelling herds to the tune of roughly half a million a week! Pig and chicken producers have started “depopulating” their herds, a $2 word for slaughtering and disposing of an otherwise viable food product. Producers have had no choice because several huge agriculture conglomerates have shuttered processing plants and slashed employment rolls after some workers tested positive for COVID-19. So, as you look at potentially empty meat refrigerators at your local grocery, just know there is not a meat shortage — there is a processing shortage.
But there doesn’t need to be. Wasting supply via depopulating — aka wanton slaughtering — is absolutely not what needs to be happening in the middle of a global pandemic and record food demand. We’re already facing one crisis — we cannot let fear lead us to self-inflict another.
Unfortunately, the processing hiccups due to COVID-19 have already resulted in the loss of food, but to succumb to fear and close down our processing plants completely would bring our country’s food supply to a screeching halt.
So I’m glad President Trump has refused to let us fall to our fears. Yes, coronavirus is serious, and all reasonable precautions should be taken. But we cannot allow fear of the virus to shut down our food supply!
At the same time, if workers in these processing environments are going to be asked to remain at work, they should be shown the same respect and given similar safety safeguards as those in the health care industry. They are heroes too by keeping our grocery stores stocked and our bellies full. Imagine enduring quarantine with nothing to eat!
That’s why every American should be concerned for the safety and security of these workers, but so should the companies that employ them. Companies must ensure workers have the protective equipment necessary and must keep facilities and production lines sanitary. Employees should be monitored for symptoms and coronavirus tests available to immediately identify any employee who should not be on the production line. Simple steps like these, which many companies are implementing, will build confidence among consumers and processing plant workers that our food supply is clean and safe. This would also be a great time for processing facilities to bump up compensation to incentivize workers and recognize the important burden they are shouldering for all of us during this crisis.
Of course, the agricultural industry still faces great challenges, and even without the COVID-19 threat a slew of innovations is needed to increase the security and reliability of our food supply. Luckily, advances are being made in farm biosecurity, blockchain technology and satellite and drone utilization that will increase efficiency, lower costs and bolster the safety of food products.
President Trump’s order to keep meat processing plants open isn’t a flashy one, but it’s a decision that will keep America safer, stable and fed. Already livestock futures have soared in response to the president’s announcement — along with producers’ confidence.
Tyler Beaver is the founder of the Open Range mobile app, which brings agricultural producers together with global markets. Tyler also founded the Arkansas-based Beaf Cattle Company to facilitate global protein, grain and crop sourcing.