President Trump Signs Executive Order to Keep Meat Processing Plants Open amid Coronavirus Crisis
"Such closures threaten the continued functioning of the national meat and poultry supply chain," Trump wrote in the order
In an executive order issued Tuesday night, Trump used the Defense Production Act to, he wrote, ensure that plants will stay open — despite recent discussions that several companies, like Tyson Foods, might keep only 20 percent of their facilities in operation out of health concerns, CNN reported.
“It is important that processors of beef, pork, and poultry ('meat and poultry') in the food supply chain continue operating and fulfilling orders to ensure a continued supply of protein for Americans," Trump, 73, wrote in his order.
"Any unnecessary closures can quickly have a large effect on the food supply chain," he wrote.
For example, the White House says, a plant's closing can reduce supply of a type of meat by 80 percent or more to dependent grocery stores.
"Such closures threaten the continued functioning of the national meat and poultry supply chain, undermining critical infrastructure during the national emergency," the president wrote.
As part of the order, Trump called on Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue to "take all appropriate action" to certify that the meat companies continue to operate under guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
The brief order did not detail specific steps Perdue might take beyond saying he was to "determine the proper nationwide priorities and allocation of all the materials, services, and facilities necessary to ensure the continued supply of meat and poultry" — suggesting the government would provide support for plants whose employees become sick and can't work.
As the novel coronavirus continues to spread, several meatpacking plants have seen major outbreaks of the illness.
Employees in these facilities often work side-by-side while cutting and packaging meat, though health officials say avoiding new infections means avoiding groups and practicing social distancing.
As of Tuesday, at least 22 meatpacking and food processing plants have closed over the past two months due to the spread of the virus, the UFCW wrote in a statement.
"The food supply chain is breaking," John Tyson, the chairman of the board of Tyson, warned Sunday in The New York Times and The Washington Post.
"There will be limited supply of our products available in grocery stores until we are able to reopen our facilities that are currently closed," he added.
Earlier this month, the United Nations sounded the alarm that without action, parts of the world were at risk of numerous famines “of biblical proportions” in the near future.
David Beasley, the director of the United Nations World Food Program, addressed the U.N. Security Council via video where he expressed concerns that the world was on “the brink of a hunger pandemic.”
“There is also a real danger that more people could potentially die from the economic impact of COVID-19 [the coronavirus disease] than from the virus itself,” he warned.
The WFP already estimated that in 2020, nearly 135 million people would be facing starvation. With the addition of the coronavirus pandemic, Beasley is said that there could be an extra 130 million people “pushed to the brink of starvation" — bringing the total to 265 million people.
As information about the coronavirus pandemic rapidly changes, PEOPLE is committed to providing the most recent data in our coverage. Some of the information in this story may have changed after publication. For the latest on COVID-19, readers are encouraged to use online resources from CDC, WHO, and local public health departments. PEOPLE has partnered with GoFundMe to raise money for the COVID-19 Relief Fund, a GoFundMe.org fundraiser to support everything from frontline responders to families in need, as well as organizations helping communities. For more information or to donate, click here.