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Fox News’s Sean Hannity talked with Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds May 26 as part of a town hall meeting in Nashville with six Republican governors, including Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee, Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem and New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu.
Hannity praised Iowa’s response to COVID-19 outbreaks in the state’s meatpacking plants and asked Reynolds to talk about it.
“Well, first of all, my farmers and producers produce over 10 percent of the nation's food supplies,” Reynolds started.
That’s the first statement we’re going to check.
She continued by saying: “Not only did we provide the PPE, but we were able to test. Those that were positive were quarantined” and “we were able to keep our processing plants up and going and I mean, and not back up hog production for our producers.”
Claim 1: Back to the claim about Iowa farmers producing more than 10 percent of the nation’s food supply. When the Fact Checker asked Reynolds’s office for sourcing on this statement, it sent a two-page document from the Iowa Economic Development Authority.
One of the bullet points on the document says “Iowa alone produces one-eleventh of the nation’s food supply” and cites the U.S. Department of Agriculture from 2013. One-eleventh of the nation’s food supply is about 9 percent, not quite the 10 percent as Reynolds said. But let’s look at the actual data from the USDA.
Each year, the USDA’s Economic Research Service adds up total cash receipts by commodity for each state and the United States as a whole. This list of 100 commodities includes corn, soybeans and hogs (Iowa’s specialties) as well as other products, such as oranges, cotton, catfish, pumpkins, rice, sugar beets, tobacco, olives, lentils and avocados.
In 2019, the most recent year data are available, the total cash receipts for the United States were $369.3 billion, $27.5 billion of which came from Iowa. That means Iowa produced about 7.4 percent of the nation’s agricultural cash receipts that year. Going back to 2013, the year cited in the Economic Development report, Iowa produced 7.6 percent of total agricultural receipts.
Grade: Although Iowa produces a whole lot of the nation’s food, it isn’t more than 10 percent as Reynolds said on Fox News. We give her a D on this claim, but she shares the blame with the Economic Development Authority, which doesn’t appear to have correctly reported the USDA data.
Claim 2: “Not only did we provide the PPE, but we were able to test. Those that were positive were quarantined.”
It’s unclear exactly who Reynolds is referring to when she says “we” in this statement. In early April 2020, the Iowa National Guard delivered masks to counties with meatpacking plants, although news reports indicate most of those supplies went to hospitals and other health care facilities.
For the most part, companies are responsible for providing employees with protective equipment to stay safe on the job, so it’s likely Reynolds is including meatpacking plant leadership on the “we.”
After coronavirus outbreaks at Iowa meatpacking plants sickened thousands of workers in March and April 2020, companies started adding plastic barriers between employees, staggered start times and breaks, provided hand sanitizer and checked temperatures before entry, according to the Associated Press.
Still, a Marshalltown woman who lost her dad in an outbreak at a pork processing facility in Marshalltown told the Des Moines Register in May 2020 that JBS should have provided masks and gloves sooner.
When Black Hawk County Sheriff Tony Thompson visited Tyson Foods’s largest pork processing plant in Waterloo April 10, 2020, he saw employees standing in proximity with only about half wearing masks. Some of the masks were makeshift, made from bandannas, a T-shirt and an eye mask, Thompson told ProPublica. At that time, Tyson already had suspended operations at its Columbus Junction plant because of an outbreak there. Thompson knew Tyson had operations in China, where the virus hit first, and should have known better how to protect employees from the virus.
Companies eventually ramped up testing and required quarantines for employees who tested positive. Reynolds ordered strike teams to do rapid on-site COVID-19 testing at 17 businesses, including some of the state’s largest meat-processing plants, the AP reported. Those visits happened from April through July 2020.
The New York Times reported that in March 2020, the Tyson plant in Waterloo had relaxed its policies so workers with positive COVID-19 tests or who felt sick could stay home and still make a portion of their salaries.
Grade: D. Companies with Iowa meatpacking plants took steps to protect workers from COVID-19, but many people thought those measures were too little, too late. And the fact that thousands of meat processing workers got sick and many died proves this point.
Claim 3: “We were able to keep our processing plants up and going and I mean, and not back up hog production for our producers.”
There were numerous news reports about meat packing plants temporarily closing because of coronavirus outbreaks in spring 2020.
Tyson Foods suspended operations at its Waterloo pork processing plant April 22, 2020, after employees at the company’s plants in Waterloo, Columbus Junction and Dakota City, Nebraska, died from COVID-19, the Des Moines Register reported. The Waterloo plant reopened May 6.
The Storm Lake Tyson pork processing plant closed for several days at the end of May 2020 because of an outbreak in which 591 employees tested positive for COVID-19, the Sioux City Journal reported.
The AP reported May 29, 2020, that even after the plants reopened, they were only at 80 percent capacity, which caused some farmers to euthanize hogs they couldn’t take to market.
Grade: F. Meat packing plants temporarily closed during the COVID-19 pandemic, which had consequences for Iowa farmers.
Reynolds’s claims on Fox News were focused on how quickly Iowa’s agricultural production returned to normal after the COVID-19 outbreaks at meatpacking plants.
The comments did not acknowledge the thousands of workers who were sickened and the many who died from the virus as companies tried to maintain regular food production without proper protective gear and social distancing.
Reynolds attempted to provide a rosy picture, but she was wrong on most counts. Averaging two D’s and F, we give her a D overall.
The Fact Checker team checks statements made by an Iowa political candidate/officeholder or a national candidate/officeholder about Iowa, or in ads that appear in our market.
Claims must be independently verifiable.
We give statements grades from A to F based on accuracy and context.
If you spot a claim you think needs checking, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This Fact Checker was researched and written by Erin Jordan of The Gazette.