Major US meat producer warns ‘food supply chain is breaking’

Tyson Foods, one of Americas largest meat producers, has warned the food supply chain is breaking amid the coronavirus crisis.
In a full-page ad on Sunday with the New York Times, the Washington Post and the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, the Arkansas-based company cautioned there will be limited supply of products until it can reopen closed facilities.
As pork, beef and chicken plants are being forced to close, even for short periods of time, millions of pounds of meat will disappear from the supply chain, John Tyson, Tysons board chairman, wrote.
Tyson has closed or reduced production at several facilities throughout the US, including a pork-processing plant in Iowa, where several workers tested positive for the virus.
Tyson plants in Texas and Indiana also closed. Other facilities, including a Smithfield Foods pork plant in South Dakota, and a JBS beef plant in Wisconsin, have announced temporary shutdowns.
Tyson warned that farmers across the nation simply will not have anywhere to sell their livestock to be processed, further sounding the alarm on the threat to the nations food supply chain.
The Department of Agriculture (USDA) had vowed to work with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to ensure the safety of the US food supply and protecting agricultural health.
The USDA had been criticized for the millions of pounds of food rotting while the countrys food banks became increasingly depleted due to high demand amid the economic dive. Experts have warned it could be a matter of weeks before consumers feel the effect of shutdowns with meat shortages at grocery stores.
USDA waited more than a month to make its first significant move to buy up surplus fruits and vegetables, Politico reported. The agriculture secretary, Sonny Perdue, drew fire for the lag in response to the pandemic compared with other federal agencies.
USDA is committed to maximizing our services and flexibilities to ensure children and others who need food can get it during this coronavirus epidemic, Perdue said in a statement.
Earlier this month, Donald Trump had said that he expected the secretary to use all of the funds and authorities at his disposal to make sure that our food supply is stable and safe.
Concerns about food supply echo worries about the health of workers.
According to the United Food and Commercial Workers International Unions, a meatpacking and food processing union, at least 10 meatpacking workers and three food processing workers have died from the coronavirus and at least 5,000 meatpacking workers and 1,500 food processing workers have been directly affected.
Tyson, among others, faced growing criticism for subpar standards in protecting workers, including a lack of adequate gear. The company had faced backlash for slow response to worker safety, including only requiring employees to wear company-supplied masks since mid-April.
Tyson shot back at accusations of an inadequate coronavirus response, committing to waiving the waiting period to qualify for short-term disability so workers can immediately be paid if they get sick.
The company also agreed to pay nearly $60m in bonuses to more than 115,000 workers and truck drivers.
Tyson Foods referred the Guardian to its letter in response to request for comment, but in an emailed statement to Time, said it places team member safety as our top priority, launching safety measures including temperature checks, requiring masks and ramped-up facility cleaning.
Despite our aggressive efforts, in some locations, this was not enough and we decided to close several of our facilities, the statement said.
In a statement to the Guardian, a USDA spokesperson said: The food supply chain is a critical industry and Secretary Perdue fully recognizes the need to keep workers and inspectors safe during the Covid-19 national emergency.
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