On Friday, Vice President Mike Pence stopped in West Des Moines at HyVee headquarters to host a roundtable discussion about the food supply chain. He was joined by Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds, Iowa Senators Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst, United States Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, American Farm Bureau President Zippy Duvall, as well as the heads of Smithfield, Tyson, HyVee, Kroger and more. We will hear from them throughout the week, today we will start with Vice President Pence.
Audio: Full comments from Vice President Pence throughout HyVee roundtable
Vice President Pence started off his remarks from West Des Moines by giving an update on the latest briefings he had on the Coronavirus, and praising the American people for their resolve and commending them for doing what they could to look out for one another. He then commented on the strength of the food supply chain.
The Vice President commended everyone up the food supply chain for their willingness to keep working to keep food on America’s table. He extended the gratitude of himself and President Trump for their efforts.
Pence commended the meatpacking industry for their hard work and dedication throughout the pandemic. He talked about President Trump using the Defense Production Act to provide the necessary safety and testing equipment to allow workers to return to the plants. He talked about the two main goals of the order.
However, not everyone is as optimistic about the situation as those in attendance. During the Vice President’s roundtable discussion, two separate press releases came from the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW) claiming that not enough is being done to ensure the safety of workers. UFCW International President Marc Perrone released the following statement:
“America’s meatpacking workers are putting their lives on the line every day to make sure our families have the food they need during this pandemic. Meatpacking plants did not close because anyone wants them to close. These plants closed because at least 30 workers died and more than 10,000 workers have been infected or exposed to COVID-19.
“Today’s rush by the Trump Administration to re-open 14 meatpacking plants without the urgent safety improvements needed is a reckless move that will put American lives at risk and further endanger the long-term security of our nation’s food supply.
“Since the executive order was announced by President Trump, the Administration has failed to take the urgent action needed to enact clear and enforceable safety standards at these meatpacking plants. We are calling on the White House to end the delays and immediately mandate that all meatpacking companies provide the highest level of protective equipment, ensure daily testing is available for all meatpacking workers, enforce physical distancing at all plants, provide full paid sick leave for any workers who are infected, and establish constant monitoring by federal inspectors to ensure these safety standards are enforced. We cannot wait any longer.”
The UFCW also invited Senators Grassley and Ernst to work a full shift in a meatpacking plant during this time.
“If Senators Ernst and Grassley are serious about their commitment to the safe functioning of our food system, they should be willing to work a full shift at one of our nearby plants to prove to workers and the American people that these plants are truly safe. They should work in the same conditions and under the same fear that our members and their fellow Iowans work under every day. We’d be happy to arrange for them to join us working the kill floor at Tyson, boning hams at Smithfield or snatching guts at JBS.
The message that was reiterated repeatedly from the Vice President to the CEOs of Smithfield and Tyson was that the workers’ safety comes first. That the American people must have a stable food supply chain, but not at the expense of the health and safety of those processing that meat.
The Vice President expressed his gratitude to the grocery stores who vowed to stay open and keep America fed.
Throughout the week, we will continue to hear from some of the leaders who spoke at the event on behalf of Agriculture.