CHICAGO, Nov 11 (Reuters) - A U.S. meat company that
supplies Walmart and Costco is suing New Mexico
to fight a state order that seeks to close a production facility
where more than 100 workers have tested positive for COVID-19.
The lawsuit from Stampede Meat argues the plant in Sunland
Park, New Mexico, should stay open under an executive order from
President Donald Trump, pitting the federal government against
local health officials as coronavirus infections rise.
Trump in April ordered meat plants to stay open to protect
the U.S. food supply, following virus outbreaks at
slaughterhouses that slashed production and prompted retailers
like Costco and Kroger to limit customers' purchases.
However, the New Mexico Department of Health last week
ordered Stampede Meat to shut for 14 days, after the state
identified at least six COVID-19 cases at the plant during a
five-day period in late October.
Stampede Meat's lawsuit said the order is unconstitutional
and would force the company to destroy millions of pounds of
meat that could go to grocers or other customers like the
restaurant chains Denny's and Applebee's.
"Allowing the Department of Health to ignore the President's
Executive Order and close Stampede Meat and other meat and
poultry processing companies will lead to similar food shortages
and rationing," the lawsuit said.
Stampede Meat did not respond to a request for comment on
New Mexico's health department declined to comment on the
lawsuit. Department spokeswoman Marisa Maez said Stampede Meat
had not halted operations at the plant as far as the department
was aware. At least 11 employees had tested positive over two
weeks when the state ordered the plant shut, and more than 100
employees have tested positive during the pandemic, she said.
Stampede Meat contacted the U.S. Department of Agriculture
for possible help testing employees, according to the lawsuit. A
USDA spokesman said the agency offered to help New Mexico manage
the pandemic and ensure food supplies.
(Reporting by Tom Polansek, Editing by Rosalba O'Brien)