Coronavirus committee: Meat companies lied about impending shortage and put workers at risk

Coronavirus committee: Meat companies lied about impending shortage and put workers at risk

May 12, 2022 Off By administrator

CNN, POOL, WHITE HOUSE

By Parija Kavilanz and Danielle Wiener-Bronner, CNN Business

At the height of the pandemic, as the coronavirus infected tens of thousands of meat industry workers and caused hundreds to die, executives at the nation’s largest meat producers were aware of the transmission risk in their plants and successfully lobbied the Trump White House and the USDA to circumvent coronavirus prevention measures and regulations, according to the latest findings of a congressional investigation.

The House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis, which launched its probe in February 2021 into meatpackers’ Covid response, also found that meat processors’ warnings about the nation being on the brink of a meat shortage were not based in fact, and that industry experts at the time believed them to be intentionally misleading.

“The Select Subcommittee’s investigation has revealed that former President Trump’s political appointees at USDA collaborated with large meatpacking companies to lead an Administration-wide effort to force workers to remain on the job during the coronavirus crisis despite dangerous conditions, and even to prevent the imposition of commonsense mitigation measures,” committee chairman, US Rep. James Clyburn, said in a statement Thursday.

The North American Meat Institute, an industry trade group, criticized the committee’s report as “partisan” and said it “distorts the truth about the meat and poultry industry’s work to protect employees during the Covid-19 pandemic.”

“The House Select Committee has done the nation a disservice. The Committee could have tried to learn what the industry did to stop the spread of Covid among meat and poultry workers, reducing positive cases associated with the industry while cases were surging across the country. Instead, the Committee uses 20/20 hindsight and cherry picks data to support a narrative that is completely unrepresentative of the early days of an unprecedented national emergency,” Julie Anna Potts, president and CEO of the North American Meat Institute, said in a statement.

Ignoring the risk

The investigation centered on meat producers Tyson, Smithfield, JBS USA, Cargill and National Beef along with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and its response to worker illnesses. Meat plants became a hotbed for Covid outbreaks in the first year of the pandemic as workers grappled with long hours in crowded work spaces.

The initial results of the probe, released last October, showed infections and deaths among workers in plants owned by those five companies in the first year of the pandemic were significantly higher than previously estimated, with over 59,000 workers infected and at least 269 deaths.

The report cited examples, based on Internal meatpacking industry documents, of at least one company ignoring warnings by a doctor of the risk of rapid transmission of the virus in their facilities.

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