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Trump expected to order US meat plants to stay open amid food supply fears

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Washington (AFP)

President Donald Trump was expected to sign an emergency order Tuesday compelling meat packing plants to stay open, despite a string of coronavirus deaths, in a bid to secure US food supplies.

Trump said in the White House that the details of an order were being drawn up for signing "in the next hour or so." He gave no specifics.

The facilities, where animals are slaughtered and processed into food sold in shops, have long struggled with safety and sanitary issues.

Facing alarming rates of the novel coronavirus in the often tightly packed work spaces, some suppliers have closed down.

As warnings mount that stores will run out, Trump is expected to invoke the Defense Production Act to compel the meatpacking businesses to keep working.

United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW), the nation's largest meatpacking union, said more safety precautions were needed.

"At least 20 meatpacking workers have tragically died from coronavirus while more than 5,000 workers have been hospitalized or are showing symptoms," UFCW president Marc Perrone said in a statement.

"While we share the concern over the food supply, today's executive order to force meatpacking plants to stay open must put the safety of our country’s meatpacking workers first," he added.

"Simply put, we cannot have a secure food supply without the safety of these workers."

Last week, meatpacking giant Tyson Foods announced the temporary closure of its plant in Pasco, Washington state, which it says usually produces enough beef in a day for four million people.

A big pork plant in South Dakota run by Smithfield Foods and two JBS cattle slaughterhouses are among the others to have shut their doors.

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