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White House releases plans to keep meat processing plants open

The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union says 20 food-processing and meatpacking union workers in the U.S. have died of the virus.

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump has ordered meat processing plants to remain open amid concerns over growing coronavirus cases and the impact on the nation’s food supply. 

An executive order signed Tuesday by the president uses the Defense Production Act to classify meat processing as critical infrastructure to keep plants open and prevent a shortage of chicken, pork and other meat on supermarket shelves. 

The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union says 20 food-processing and meatpacking union workers in the U.S. have died of the virus. And they say the country can't have a secure food supply unless workers are kept safe. 

RELATED: Trump to sign order keeping meat processing plants open

Read the full release from the White House below:

PROTECTING MEAT SUPPLIES: President Donald J. Trump is using the Defense Production Act to ensure that Americans have a reliable supply of products like beef, pork, and poultry.

President Trump is signing an Executive Order providing the authority to ensure the continued supply of beef, pork, and poultry to the American people.

Under the order, the Department of Agriculture is directed to ensure America’s meat and poultry processors continue operations uninterrupted to the maximum extent possible.

To ensure worker safety, these processors will continue to follow the latest guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

Unfortunately, a number of America’s large meat processors and their workers have been affected by outbreaks of coronavirus (COVID-19).

In addition, recent actions in some States have led to the complete closure of large processing facilities.

This action will further ensure that vitally important food processors are able to continue to operate safely and meet the consumer needs of the American people.

SUPPORTING CRITICAL INFRASTRUCTURE: Closure of meat and poultry processing plants can quickly have an outsized impact on our Nation’s food supply chain.

Given the high concentration of meat and poultry processors in a relatively small number of large facilities, closure of any of these plants could disrupt our food supply and detrimentally impact our hardworking farmers and ranchers.

Closure of a single large beef processing plant can result in the loss of over 10 million servings of beef in a single day.

Similarly, the closure of a single plant can eliminate more than 80 percent of the supply of a particular meat product—like ground beef—to an entire grocery store chain.

Failure to process livestock could force millions of pounds of meat to disappear from the market, potentially leading to long-term disruptions in our supply chain.

To combat this crisis and ensure the adequate availability of food for the American people, it is vital that these processors are able to remain operating at this critical moment, while also taking steps to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in their facilities.

STOCKING OUR SHELVES: President Trump has taken decisive action to make sure that Americans retain access to a variety of food and goods during the COVID-19 outbreak.

From the very outset of the domestic COVID-19 outbreak in January, the President has worked to ensure the grocery store shelves remain stocked with food and goods.

In March, the President held a teleconference with grocery store executives to make sure food and essentials would remain available during the outbreak.

In April, the President announced that his Administration would provide $16 billion to farmers, ranchers, and food producers who experience economic losses during this pandemic.

Through the Department of Agriculture, the Administration is purchasing $3 billion in fresh produce, dairy, and meat products of excess supply to be distributed in order to assist Americans in need as well as producers with lost markets.

RELATED: COVID-19's impact on the food supply chain

The Associated Press contributed to this report.