Farbest's measures to protect workers, ‘feed the world’


HUNTINGBURG — The presidential executive order for meat processing plants to stay open has not changed operations at Farbest Foods.

Company President Ted Seger agrees with President Donald Trump’s action.

“Farbest Foods and our affiliated companies produce food, turkeys specifically, for a lot of people all across the world,” he said Thursday. “It is certainly a responsibility of ours at this point in time, to help feed the world, especially with everything going on.”

Trump took the executive action on Tuesday amid concerns over growing coronavirus cases and the impact on the nation’s food supply.

The order uses the Defense Production Act to classify meat processing as critical infrastructure to try to prevent a shortage of chicken, pork and other meat on supermarket shelves. Unions fired back, saying the White House was jeopardizing lives and prioritizing cold cuts over workers’ health.

Farbest is following the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidelines for meat and poultry processing for workers and employers, and has been doing so since they were established.

“We’re taking this very, very seriously,” Seger said. “We have taken all of the precautionary measures to keep our workforce safe and healthy. And our plants are running as normal, trying to get the food out for the people.”

As part of normal processing procedures, which have always been in place, Farbest’s facility is sanitized every day after production. If employees are handling food products, they wear gloves and the other necessary safety equipment for a food manufacturing facility.

“We don’t normally wear masks,” Seger said. “Some weeks ago, the CDC’s guidelines said don’t wear masks; save those for the health care professionals and the front-line workers. So we didn’t. As soon as they pivoted to say that workers can now wear masks and it would be advisable, we immediately got our supply of masks out.”

A few weeks ago, employees could voluntarily use masks. “A lot of our employees wore those, the homemade ones,” Seger said. “More recently, we made it mandatory, about two weeks ago. And we supplied all those masks. We continue that today.”

Prior to the presidential order, more than 20 meat packing plants had closed temporarily under pressure from local authorities and their own workers because of the virus, including two of the country’s largest companies. Tyson suspended operations at its pork plant in Waterloo, Iowa, after a slew of infections, and Smithfield Foods halted production at its plant in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, after an outbreak infected 853 workers there.

Other plants have slowed production as workers have fallen ill or stayed home to avoid getting sick.

“Such closures threaten the continued functioning of the national meat and poultry supply chain, undermining critical infrastructure during the national emergency,” the presidential order states.

It was developed in consultation with industry leaders, including Tyson and Smithfield, and is designed, in part, to provide companies with additional liability protections in case workers get sick.

Farbest will continue to do what it can to keep its employees safe and produce food, Seger said.

“The order is trying to protect the food supply chain, and is saying that we as employers need to meet these [CDC] guidelines,” he said. “We need to try as best we possibly can to keep our facilities open, to keep producing that food.

“That’s what the great people of Farbest are doing. They’re down there every day, trying to get this accomplished.”

The Associated Press also contributed to this report.

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