Smithfield, Tyson react to Trump executive order keeping meat packing facilities open

Meat processing plants have become a new focus of the coronavirus pandemic in the United States, and outbreaks in several of the country’s largest facilities have prompted shutdowns that have threatened the supply chain, both for farmers and grocers.

To prevent shortages at supermarkets, President Donald Trump signed an executive order on Tuesday in which he invoked the Defense Production Act to keep meat processing plants operating.

Industry leaders praised the president’s executive order; they claim it will make it easier for facilities to acquire personal protective equipment and secure widespread testing for their employees.

Smithfield Foods was among those applauding the order.

"Grocers and restaurants are dependent on farmers, processors and distributors to supply protein to the country," Smithfield Foods said in a statement Wednesday. "This action helps ensure the American people will not experience protein shortages."

The Virginia-based pork processing company has been making headlines over a massive COVID-19 outbreak at its plant in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, which was shut down earlier this month. So far, more than 853 workers tested positive for the virus.

Tyson, which recently closed its largest pork plant in Waterloo, Iowa, because of an outbreak, also praised the Trump administration.

"We appreciate the administration’s efforts to help the food supply chain and we remain committed to protecting the safety of our team members as we continue our efforts to keep feeding American families," a company spokesman said in a statement.

Tyson and Smithfield consulted the Trump administration to develop the executive order, which provides companies with additional liability protections in the event workers get sick.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.