Perdue, Reynolds assure Trump meat plants will reopen soon

At a meeting in the White House on Wednesday, Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue and Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds assured President Donald Trump that meat processing plants will soon be operating even though more workers in the plants are testing positive for the coronavirus.

Perdue did acknowledge that the plants would not be “full force.”

According to the White House transcript of the meeting, Reynolds, a Republican, spent most of the time thanking Trump and Vice President Mike Pence, particularly for the executive order that directed the plants to stay open but also said they should follow guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and the Occupational Health and Safety Administration.

Reynolds said that Iowa had increased testing for COVID-19 “from 300 a day in March, to 1,300 a day in April, to almost 3,000 a day, now,” and that she hopes to increase that to 5,000.

“It’s been a big piece of us really being able to stand up and keep operating the processing plants, which are so important to our ability to feed not only the country, but the world,” Reynolds said.

Perdue added, “The plants are reopening in Iowa and other places. We may have still a few closed, but we are working. They’re opening this week. And I think we’ve turned the corner, based on that commonality of uniform standards there.”

Perdue also said, “I think we’ve turned the corner. We see these plants coming back on line. Obviously, because of some infected employees, they won’t be full force for a while, but we think the stores will be — you’ll see more variety and more meat cases fully supplied.”

Asked by Trump, “What’s your timing? What’s your timing, Sonny?,” Perdue said, “I’d say probably a week to 10 days where it’s fully back up.”

Trump also noted that he had asked the Justice Department to look into the low prices that farmers are getting for meat animals while the price of meat in stores is so high.

A reporter noted that “as the price for animals on the hoof has gone down, the price of boxed beef has really skyrocketed and there’s a huge price differential disparity there. Farmers are really hurting, whereas these meat packing plants are making a lot of money. Is there something that the federal government can do? Farmers are asking.”

Trump replied, “Yeah. Well, I’ll ask the Justice Department to look into it. OK? I will ask 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.”

Asked by the reporter, “What exactly, sir?,” Trump replied, “I said I’ve asked the Justice Department to look into it. Or whatever. Why is there disparity? What’s going on? Are they dealing with each other? What’s going on? OK? Because it shouldn’t be that way. Supply and demand should not allow that to happen, by normal supply and demand. OK?”

Asked by a reporter whether the health and safety of the workers are being protected, Pence said the government is working with the companies to put new countermeasures into place and said he agreed with Perdue, who has said “our objective is two equal goals. Number one is the safety and health of the workforce in our meat-processing plants and to ensure the strength of the food supply by getting people back to work and keeping the plants open.”

Reynolds said she asked company executives if they were having any trouble getting personal protective equipment, but the executives said no they were fine.

“We are seeing the supply chain open up,” Reynolds said. “I appreciate what the administration has done to make sure that they are — they have the adequate PPE to protect their employees. You know, this is their teammates. This is an essential workforce. They know how important it is to take care of their workforce. And a big part of it was providing them the confidence to go back into the facility knowing that they’d either tested positive and they’d recovered or they were on a shift with other employees that had tested negative.”

Asked whether he is satisfied that China is fulfilling the phase one trade deal, Trump said he would have a report at the end of next week and added, “They’re buying a lot of farm product, but are they buying to the level that they were supposed to?”

“You know, they were going to buy 50 billion dollars’ worth.The most they ever did was 15 or 16, and now they’re going to 50. Anywhere between 40 and 50, in terms of farm. But $250 billion overall. That’s some — that never happened. No president has ever even talked about anything like that. It’s about time.”

Perdue added that the Agriculture Department would have “updated ag numbers this Friday.”

–The Hagstrom Report