Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds and President Donald Trump predicted Wednesday, during a meeting at the White House, that meatpacking plants would be “fully back up” within a week to 10 days.
“Maybe sooner,” Trump said.
Reynolds said South Dakota plants are coming back on board “and we’ll have most of our facilities up and going and … we’re going to hopefully prevent what could have been, you know, a really sorry situation where we were euthanizing some of our protein supply and really impacting the food supply not only across the country but throughout the world.”
Reynolds said the response from the industry and government “I think has really maybe prevented what could have been really a serious situation.”
Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue agreed, although he noted that meatpackers that have experienced outbreaks will take time to be operating at full capacity.
“But we think the stores will see more variety and more meat cases fully supplied,” he said.
Reynolds added, “We’re still monitoring it. We’ve turned a corner.”
Trump said Reynolds had “a great talk with the owners of the plants. The top people. Big people, these are big companies actually, you wouldn’t believe how many plants they have. And I think it was a very strong talk and I think they got the message.”
The remarks come a day after Iowa’s largest grocery store chain announced it would limit customer purchases of meat due to supply interruptions and customers stockpiling food during the COVID-19 pandemic. Iowa public health officials reported Tuesday that more than 1,650 workers in four meatpacking plants had tested positive for COVID-19, including 58% percent of workers tested at the Tyson Fresh Meats plant in Perry.
Reynolds noted that the Perry plant “came back up at 60 percent capacity, which is really, that’s a strong startup.”
Vice President Mike Pence praised the president’s Defense Production Act executive order that “made it clear that our objective was to keep meat processing plants open.”
Asked whether workers were really being protected, Pence cited the deploying of Centers for Disease Control personnel to plant sites and federal assistance in supplying workers with personal protective equipment such as face masks. “In most of these meat processing plants, we end up testing everyone in the facility and the people that are healthy are able to return with new countermeasures and new protection” such as masks and gloves.
Pence referred to Reynolds as a “great heartland governor” and said, “One of the great stories of the coronavirus outbreak has been how our food supply has continued to work every day from the field to the fork, from the grocers to the meat processors and thanks to the president’s decision to use the Defense Production Act, we now have uniformity and the objective is to work every day to keep those meat processing plants open and the ones that are coming down are going back online.”
Asked by a reporter about the soaring price of beef, Trump said he’d asked the Justice Department to investigate. Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller on Tuesday joined attorneys general in 10 other states seeking an investigation into what they called possible price manipulation by meatpackers.
“I’ve asked them to take a very serious look into it because it shouldn’t be happening that way and we want to protect our farmers. But they’re looking into that very strongly.” Trump said. “They looking into the disparity, what’s going on. Are they working with each other? What’s going on.”