Donald Trump likes red meat. According to a variety of news reports he likes steaks and Big Macs. So it should come as no surprise that when several meat packing plants threatened to close or did close because their workers had contracted the Coronavirus, Trump invoked his presidential powers to order the plants to stay open.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I like a good steak or a juicy hamburger as much as the next person, but I’m not sure that I would be eating one from a meat plant where the workers are in danger of being sick with a potentially deadly disease. Trump doesn’t seem to mind that, though. And, apparently he doesn’t seem to mind that in some, and perhaps many, of the plants, the working conditions are such that we can’t be sure the workers have protection from the disease. They may work close to each other. They may not have protective gear. They may not have been able to be tested (daily, by the way).
And, leaving all of that aside, the idea of ordering men and women to work when their lives may be endangered isn’t very appealing. But then, according to Trump, the plants will be operating under strict conditions—his favorite word “strong” was in there somewhere—and it will all be carefully done. So what’s the problem? (Please excuse the sarcasm. I’m just following Trump’s supposed example.)
The order to reopen without requiring strict sanitary conditions shouldn’t be a complete surprise. Since taking office in 2017 the Trump administration has relaxed a number of regulations regarding the production of meat, pork and poultry that were in place. The federal government is not requiring testing or a variety of other preventive measures for plants that are open or reopening. One meat company spokesperson said essentially that testing is useless. “Testing does not stop the virus and only provides a one-time snapshot of infection,” Cameron Bruett, a JBS spokesman, said in an email [to The New York Times]. “In reality, a negative test today can be a positive test tomorrow given ongoing community spread in Weld County.” That rationalization answers its own flawed reasoning. A positive result is what the test is all about. The idea is to get people with the virus out of the plant.
As far as the federal government is concerned, don’t count on it to do anything drastic. A COVID-19 advisory bulletin from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) (https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/organizations/meat-poultry-processing-workers-employers.html) uses words like “recommends” and “should” and “encourage” for actions like wearing face masks in the processing plants and what employers ought to do. “Must” or “required” don’t appear in the advisory. Jack-booted government thugs won’t be storming into meat plants.
As for the industry, one company has threatened to sue the union representing plant workers “for going public with concerns about safety at the plant,” according to the Times. Apparently meat processing plant workers and their representatives are governed by some sort of implicit non-disclosure agreement.
So, there we are. No need to worry about a severe meat shortage. “Severe” is the operative word here because some—or perhaps many—plant workers could get sick and production lines would have to slow down because there will be fewer workers on the job. Or many workers may choose not to work. But your supermarket probably will still have enough of it to eat, if you choose to go that route.
Meanwhile, bon appetit!