Processing plants need to adapt to stay open during pandemic

It is really not enough for President Donald Trump to sign and executive order requiring meat processing plants to reopen. There need to be solid, enforceable requirements that make the plant owners address the reasons they had to close in the first place.

Plants like the Smithfield Foods plant in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, and the JSB plant in Worthington closed because their workers were getting sick from the COVID-19 virus at a high rate. The conditions they work under — long hours standing shoulder to shoulder — make them perfect targets for the virus.

The president’s order suggests guidelines for proper distancing and sanitation, but they are not strict requirements. In the meantime, manufacturers want the government to shield them from potential lawsuits by workers who are sickened by coming to work.

It is certainly an economic issue. The closing of pork processing plants in the area is forcing pork producers to euthanize thousands of pigs that can’t be sent to closed processing plants. The plants that have closed have reduced the US processing capability by 25 percent. It won’t be long before that affects the prices and availability of meat product in the stores.

But the safety of the workers in the processing plants must be of paramount importance. If the government is going to force meat packing plants to be open, it must force them to be safe as well.


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