Report criticizes meat industry, USDA response to pandemic

In this May 7, 2020 file, workers leave the pork processing plant Tyson Foods in Logansport, Ind. When the disease broke out, the meat processing industry worked side by side with political appointees in the Trump administration to thwart health and development controls. plants open even if COVID-19 spreads rapidly among workers, according to a new Assembly report released on Thursday, May 12, 2022. Credit: AP Photo / Michael Conroy, File

As the disease broke out, the meat processing industry worked side by side with political appointees in the Trump administration to thwart health sanctions and keep slaughterhouses open as COVID-19 spread rapidly between workers, according to a Congress report released on Thursday.

The report of the Parliamentary Election Committee on the Coronavirus crisis said meat Companies are working hard to keep plants open even though they know workers are at risk of infection. The unrest has resulted in health and labor officials dropping their recommendations to the industry and culminating in an executive order issued by President Donald Trump in the spring of 2020 deciding meat plants as a priority. amenities that need to be kept open.

Democrat Rep. Jim Clyburn, who chairs the committee, said USDA and industry officials have prioritized production and profits over the health of workers and communities while at least 59,000 workers. infected and 269 workers died.

“It is a shame that corporate executives are looking to make a profit somehow in times of crisis government officials those who are interested in making their orders regardless of the harm to the public, will never be repeated, ”Clyburn said.

Former Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Purdue, who now heads the University of Georgia Policy, did not immediately respond on Thursday.

The report is based on communication between industry leaders, activists and USDA officials and other documents obtained by the committee government agencies, Tyson Foods, Smithfield Foods, JBS, Cargill, National Beef, Hormel and other companies. These companies control 85% of the beef market and 70% of pork production nationwide.

The North American Meat Trade Association says the report distorts the truth and ignores the steps taken by companies as they spend billions of dollars to recycle plants and buy protective equipment for workers as the world becomes more enlightened. about the virus in 2020.

“Parliamentary Election Commission has hurt the people of the country,” said Julie Anna Potts, chairwoman of the group. “The committee could try to learn what the industry has done to stop the spread of COVID among meat and poultry workers, reduce the quality of the industry-related issues as the industry dominates across the country. Instead, the committee uses 20/20 vision and cherry. collects data to support a story that does not fully represent the first days of the national emergency that has never been seen before. “

One of the largest unions representing workers in the manufacturing industry has condemned the Trump administration’s support for meat industry.

“We just hope the Trump administration takes care of the lives of its employees as much as it takes care of meat, pork and poultry products,” said Stuart Appelbaum, President of Commerce, Commerce and Industry. “We understand that poultry plants need closure for deep cleaning and storage employee‘life. If the Trump administration had provided more meaningful safety requirements to workers as early as possible, that would not have been a problem. “

According to the report, meat companies have been slow to take steps to protect workers from contracting the disease and have stepped up their efforts to persuade government agencies to put on a mask, put dividers between stations and encourage public exclusion. plants of choice. The industry has defended its response to previous outbreaks and major meat companies say they have worked hard to meet those requirements. safety measures and took additional measures to protect workers.

But the report published a message that a Koch Foods official sent out activists in the spring of 2020 who said the industry should not do more than assess the working conditions of workers at the plant gate. Lobbyist agrees and says “Now get rid of these bad health departments!”

As a result, the report said, USDA officials – at the behest of meat companies – attempted to comply with Trump’s executive order barring state and local health officials from ordering the closure of the plants.

Despite these efforts, U.S. meat production still fell nearly 60% of normal during the summer of 2020 because many large plants were forced to close temporarily for deep cleaning and improved safety or processing. slow speed due to staff shortage.

Documents uncovered by the commission show that meat companies are pushing harder for the executive branch in part because they believe it will help protect them from liability if workers fall ill or die – something the Court of Appeal has to say. federal lawsuit dismisses lawsuit filed against Tyson over Iowa plant worker death Emails indicate that the companies themselves submitted a draft executive order to the commission days before it was issued.

Earlier in the outbreak, meat companies were aware that the virus was spreading rapidly among them staff because the incidence of infection is higher in plants and surrounding communities. The report says that in April 2020, a doctor at a hospital near a JBS plant in Cactus, Texas, told company and government officials in an email that apparently there was an outbreak in the industry because every COVID-19 patient in the hospital either worked in the factory or was related to an employee. “Your workers will get sick and could die if this factory is left open,” the doctor warned.

The report also points to how meat companies have backed down on government safety recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This led to the final guide including language which made the standards an optional choice because it said that discussions should be held “if possible” or “where possible.”

Nearly 59,000 meat collectors caught COVID, while 269 died

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