Iowa deploys National Guard to help meat packing plants handle coronavirus

Iowa is sending in National Guard troops to help fight coronavirus outbreaks in the state’s meat-packing plants.

The state’s Republican governor, Kim Reynolds, announced Monday that 250 troops will be working full-time to help test and track the virus at plants owned by Tyson Foods Inc. and National Beef Packing Co., Bloomberg reported. Reynolds is just one governor in the Midwest region who is working to keep plants open and running, as hundreds of workers have taken ill with the virus.

Governor Reynolds has resisted pressure to close plants in her state where workers have been infected, saying the state’s facilities are too critical to the nation’s food supply. The Hawkeye state supplies about a third of all U.S. pork, Reynolds said.

Soldiers to help keep meat plants open

“It’s important because this isn’t like a regular facility where you shut it down for two weeks,” Reynolds said. “We are the largest hog producer in the country. We provide a third of the nation’s pork supply — 25 million a year — so if we aren’t able to move them through the process at some point we’re going to have to talk about euthanizing hogs and we are not that far from it. And it will be devastating not only for the food supply but for the cost of food going forward.”

Rather than shutter plants, Gov. Reynolds is co-operating with food companies to track the virus. The National Guard troops will help deliver tests to the plants, transport kits to the labs, and possibly help disinfect plants, the AP said.

“These are also essential businesses and an essential workforce,” Reynolds said. “Without them, people’s lives and our food supply will be impacted. So we must do our part to keep them open in a safe and responsible way.”

The National Guard’s deployment is perhaps the most aggressive step being taken by regional governors to get control of the virus, which has many worried about meat shortages. In Kansas, Gov. Laura Kelly sent personal protective equipment (PPE) to counties with meat processing plants.

Virus hits food supply chain

In South Dakota, Governor Kristi Noem (R) hopes to soon open the hard-hit Smithfield pork processing plant, where nearly 750 employees had contracted the coronavirus. Other plants in the Midwest are only just closing, like a JBS USA plant in Minnesota, which closed Monday.

“As we all learn more about coronavirus, it is clear that the disease is far more widespread across the U.S. and in our county than official estimates indicate based on limited testing,” Bob Krebs, president of JBS USA Pork, said in a statement. “We have taken aggressive actions to keep coronavirus out of our plant and keep this critical infrastructure facility operational.”

Shuttered plants could lead to price hikes for consumers, and farmers could suffer from a surplus of livestock, driving their prices down, Bloomberg reported. The Department of Agriculture is moving ahead with a multi-billion dollar bailout for farmers, including billions of dollars in meat and dairy purchases.

Despite the disruptions, the Department of Agriculture has said that there is no serious threat that America will run out food.

“In the United States, we have plenty of food for all of our citizens,” Secretary Sonny Perdue said last week.

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