Minnesota Republicans are urging President Donald Trump to take efforts to "safely reopen" pork processing plants to prevent more livestock being euthanized, but safety concerns persist.
In a letter to Trump dated Monday, GOP state lawmakers asked for immediate action to prevent further "disruptions to the food supply, farm bankruptcies, job losses, and devastating impacts on rural economies.”
They want the Trump Administration to implement a national strategy that would involve the CDC or the USDA overseeing efforts at the state level to "quickly develop plans to safely re-open processing plants," including prioritizing delivery of personal protective equipment (PPE) and sanitation resources.
And with plants shutting down due to outbreaks of COVID-19, Minnesota has lost more than 50 percent of its pork processing capacity. As a result, hogs and other livestock have had to be euthanized.
Furthermore, with social distancing measures resulting in the majority of U.S. restaurants and bars closing down or offering limited service, the meat industry has lost a huge tranche of its business, and finds itself having to cater for meat consumption almost entirely in the home.
"When restaurants and schools are not open, when people are staying home indefinitely, farmers have simply run out of options. Thousands of livestock are being euthanized and put in a landfill with no rate of return for the men and women who spent their lives caring for and raising them,” said Sen. Bill Weber, R-Luverne, chair of the Minnesota Senate Agriculture, Rural Development, and Housing Policy Committee in a statement.
On Monday, Minnesota’s Agriculture Commissioner Thom Peterson said the state risks continued euthanasia of livestock if it doesn’t find anywhere to process between 100,000 and 200,000 pigs a week.
JBS USA has voluntarily shut down its Worthington plant following a major outbreak, with Jennie-O Turkey in Willmar taking the same step last week. Another affected facility, Comfrey Farm Pork Plant in Windom, was able to reopen on Friday after a brief closure.
The situation is being replicated in states across the country, with other major plants shutting down including Smithfield Foods in Sioux Falls and a Tyson Foods plant in Iowa.
The Minnesota Department of Health has been working with shuttered plants on coronavirus testing of employees and their families in an attempt to get a handle on outbreaks so the facilities can eventually reopen.
Among the requests in the letter, lawmakers also said that smaller plants should be allowed license exemptions to allow for maximum processing.
Pigs should also be euthanized at plants rather than at farm, the lawmakers say.
This last request looks set to be granted, with the Forum News Service reporting that 7th District Rep. Collin Peterson saying plans are afoot to euthanize hogs at the JBS plant.