Trump Demanded Meat Plants Stay Open, COVID Cases Have Now Tripled

President Donald Trump issued an executive order in late April requiring all meat processing plants in the U.S. to remain open, despite reports of coronavirus infections and related deaths being prevalent at a number of the plants.

Since that order was issued, the number of COVID-19 cases that have been identified at meat plants across the country has likely tripled, according to estimates from a nonprofit watchdog group.

At the time of Trump’s executive order, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) had identified around 5,000 employees across 20 meat processing plants who had contracted COVID-19, and 17 workers at those plants who had died from the disease. In spite of concerns about the disease spreading at these and other locations, the president issued his order, utilizing the Defense Production Act to classify processing plants as essential infrastructure.

The executive order prevented local governments and health officials from enforcing plant closures in the event of an outbreak and it’s now apparent that the disease has indeed spread at these meatpacking locations since the order.

More than 100 plants across the country have seen a high number of cases of COVID-19. The Food & Environment Reporting Network (FERN), a nonprofit journalism watchdog group dedicated to food and agricultural issues, estimated in a report published last week that 17,000 workers may have now contracted the disease, with at least 66 COVID-related deaths recorded among employees at meat processing plants.

In light of this, other organizations are demanding the federal government take a more proactive approach toward limiting the spread of COVID-19. Citing the large numbers of workers at meat processing plants contracting coronavirus, the Center for Food Safety produced a petition in which it demanded the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) issue new emergency standards to protect employees’ health.

“Protecting workers in meatpacking plants is important not just for the workers, but also for our food safety,” the organization wrote in its letter. “Unprotected and sick workers are more likely to make mistakes, making it more likely that tainted meat gets onto store shelves. The last thing we need during this pandemic is a major foodborne illness outbreak.”

There are a number of reasons why meatpacking plants could be hotbeds for COVID-19. Workers typically stand close together, often shoulder-to-shoulder, on the assembly line. Many workers aren’t wearing protective gear at this time either, as it slows down their pace of work, while the companies themselves have admitted to struggling to find the necessary protective equipment for their workers, even after Trump’s executive order was issued.

Colder temperatures in the plants may also be helping the virus linger longer on surfaces or in air particles, and ventilation systems may be spreading coronavirus throughout the buildings.

Among the U.S. population in general, it’s feared that coronavirus will likely continue to spread even more than it already has, as several states begin transitioning away from stay-at-home orders that were previously issued.

As of Tuesday this week, the nation surpassed 100,000 deaths from COVID-19, and one estimate forecasts that 30,000 more Americans could die from the disease by Independence Day. Many health experts agree that a second wave of cases is likely to come about as states reopen businesses and other public areas.

‘Something isn’t right’: U.S. probes soaring beef prices

https://www.politico.com/news/2020/05/25/meatpackers-prices-coronavirus-antitrust-275093

One hundred years ago, U.S. antitrust prosecutors broke down monopolies in meatpacking. But can they do it again?

Meat for sale in a Miami supermarket

Supermarket customers are paying more for beef than they have in decades during the coronavirus pandemic. But at the same time, the companies that process the meat for sale are paying farmers and ranchers staggeringly low prices for cattle.

Now, the Agriculture Department and prosecutors are investigating whether the meatpacking industry is fixing or manipulating prices.

The Department of Justice is looking at the four largest U.S. meatpackers — Tyson Foods, JBS, National Beef and Cargill — which collectively control about 85 percent of the U.S. market for the slaughter and packaging of beef, according to a person with knowledge of the probe. The USDA is also investigating the beef price fluctuations, Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue has confirmed.

Meatpackers say beef prices have spiked during the pandemic because plants are running at lower capacity as workers fall ill, so less meat is making its way to shelves. The four companies didn’t respond to requests for comment about the probes.

But the coronavirus crisis is highlighting how the American system of getting meat to the table favors a handful of giant companies despite a century of government efforts to decentralize it. And it’s sparking new calls for changes in meatpacking.

“It’s evidence that something isn’t right in the industry,” said Sen. Chuck Grassley, an Iowa Republican who has spoken out against mergers in the agriculture industry. In April, Grassley requested federal investigations into market manipulation and unfair practices within the cattle industry. So have 19 other senators and 11 state attorneys general.

The average retail price for fresh beef in April was $6.22 per pound — 26 cents higher per pound than it was the month before, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. At the same time, at the end of April, the average price for a steer was below $100 per hundred pounds; the five-year average for that same week was about $135 per hundred pounds, according to USDA’s weekly summary.

Ed Greiman, general manager of Upper Iowa Beef who formerly headed the Iowa Cattlemen’s Association, attributed the consumer price increase to plants running at lower capacity. At the same time, farmers and ranchers desperate to offload their cattle as they reach optimal weight for slaughter are cutting prices so they won’t have to kill the animals without selling them.

“I’m running at half speed,” Greiman said at an event hosted by the Nebraska Cattlemen’s Association. “Cattle are backing up because we can’t run our plants fast enough. Nothing is functioning properly. We need to be careful not to put blame on any one thing or part of the industry because we can’t get these plants going.”

The industry has long been a focus for government antitrust enforcement.

Exactly 100 years ago, after years of litigation, the five biggest U.S. meatpackers — which were responsible for 82 percent of the beef market — agreed to an antitrust settlement with the Justice Department that helped break their control over the industry.

The Justice Department’s efforts to reduce concentration in meatpacking led to decades of competition. By 1980, the top four firms controlled only 36 percent of cattle slaughters in the U.S., according to a report by the Government Accountability Office.

But during the next 10 years, meatpacking experienced a huge wave of deals, enough that the USDA dubbed the time “merger mania.” By 1988, the new four biggest companies again controlled 70 percent of the beef meatpacking market.

“There’s greater concentration in meatpacking now” than in 1921, said Thomas Horton, an antitrust professor at the University of South Dakota, who previously worked at the Justice Department. The first antitrust laws were “passed to take care of the Big Five. Now we have the Big Four. We’re going backwards.”

Unlike poultry and pork, which take weeks or months to raise, cattle can take as long as two years from birth to butcher. That lifecycle makes it much more difficult to adjust supply. Once cattle reaches its optimal weight, they need to be sold within two weeks, said Peter Carstensen, an antitrust professor at the University of Wisconsin. And realistically, a farmer can only transport cattle about 150 miles to a slaughterhouse.

“You’ve got at most four bidders, but the reality is there are often fewer,” said Carstensen, noting that in some states, there are only one or two meatpackers with plants.

While the structure of the industry has remained stable since 2009, changes in how the meatpackers buy cattle have also had an impact. Before 2015, about half of all cattle was purchased via direct negotiation between a rancher and meatpacker, known as the negotiated cash market. Today, about 70 percent are purchased through contracts where farmers agree to deliver cattle once they reach a certain weight with the price to be determined later — usually a formula that takes into account how much cattle sell for in the cash market.

The increase in these contracts has some advantages for ranchers, because they know they have a buyer and don’t have to spend time on negotiations, said Ted Schroeder, an agricultural economist at Kansas State University. But fewer cash trades have made it harder to figure out the right price for cattle, he said.

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, more than 14,271 meatpacking workers have been sick as of May 15, according to the nonprofit Food and Environment Reporting Network. Worker illnesses and temporary plant closures have led plants to operate at about 50 percent capacity, said Schroeder.

Schroeder, who has focused on cattle prices for more than three decades, said the rising consumer prices and falling cattle prices are consistent with normal supply and demand.

“It’s economics 101. There’s less meat around, but demand is still pretty strong,” he said. “We’ve got plenty of cattle but can’t get it through the system. We are pretty close to what I would expect to happen to wholesale and farm prices given the bottleneck.”

Not everyone is persuaded. Last year, ranchers filed an antitrust suit against the four meatpackers for colluding to depress cattle prices. The suit, pending in Minneapolis federal court, alleges that Tyson, JBS, Cargill and National Beef began coordinating in 2015 to reduce the number of cattle slaughtered while also limiting how many they bought in the cash market. Ranchers with excess animals on their hands were forced to sell for less or enter into long-term contracts beneficial to meatpackers.

“The Big Four simultaneously withdrew from the cash market with intent to reduce prices across the board,” said Bill Bullard, CEO of Ranchers-Cattlemen Action Legal Fund, one of the lead plaintiffs in the suit, in an interview.

The companies were able to coordinate by communicating through trade associations, said Bullard. The lawsuit is based in part on information provided by a confidential witness who worked for one of the meatpackers for a decade. The conspiracy drove prices down at least 8 percent, said Bullard.

If the meatpackers were communicating about prices, that would clearly violate criminal antitrust laws, said Carstensen. But if a company observes what a rival does and matches that behavior — sometimes called “tacit collusion”— that may not violate the law, he said.

“Coordination is not the same thing as collusion,” said Carstensen.

The Justice Department could, however, try to make a case that the meatpackers have monopolized the beef market. They could argue that the companies have engaged in “an anticompetitive set of industry practices, which taken together, violate antitrust law and require a broader restructuring,” he said.

The anti-monopoly Open Markets Institute has outlined a similar theory and pushed for breaking up the Big Four so no company controls more than 10 percent of the market. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) also advocated for breaking up meatpackers as part of her presidential campaign.

Grassley, meanwhile, said he’s not ready to call for the breakup of major meatpackers, but he has “a great deal of questions about whether they’re operating within the law.”

Bullard’s group is also pushing for broader changes to the industry, such as requiring packers to buy at least half of their cattle from the cash market or prohibiting contracts that don’t include prices.

Kansas’ Schroeder, though, warned against moving the industry backwards. Breaking up the meatpackers would likely lead to higher consumer prices, he said, and insisting on cash sales would eliminate some of the advantages, like stable supply, that contracts offer.

“Too often, we try to stop things from progressing. We want things to be the way they used to be. But the way they used to be wasn’t that great,” he said. “We should be cautious how we approach regulation, so we don’t turn the apple cart upside down.”

Farmed Animals Culled En Masse as COVID-19 Outbreaks Halt Meat and Dairy Production

April 29, 2020

With COVID-19 closures impacting meat and dairy supply chains, the industry faces a choice: stay open and risk the lives of its employees, or shut down and force farmers to cull millions of animals.

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Since the start of April, many of the world’s biggest meat processing companies—JBS USA, Tyson Foods, Smithfield Foods, and Cargill—shut down over 20 slaughterhouses and packing facilities across the U.S. and Canada, in response to the growing numbers of staff infected with COVID-19. While producers pushed to keep slaughter lines running, these facilities became hotbeds for the virus. In Canada, one Alberta Cargill plant is now responsible for the biggest outbreak in the country, with one in four cases of the virus in the province linked to the facility.

Subsequently, meat plant closures are interrupting supply chains, leaving many farmers with too many animals that they are now killing, or will soon kill, en masse. One report by the Des Moines Register on the closures quotes U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley, who estimates that the country’s pork industry has about 100,000 pigs who should be sent to slaughter each day but now have nowhere to go. “Apply that over 10 days, and with a million pigs, you’ve got a big problem.”

The Guardian reports that at least two million animals have already reportedly been killed on farms in the U.S., “and that number is expected to rise.”

Similarly, due to closures of restaurants, hotels, and schools, dairy and egg producers are also seeing interruptions in their supply chains. As a result, dairy producers are dumping milk, and chicken producers are trashing eggs across the U.S. and Canada. One recent New York Times article called the amount of waste “staggering.” The article cites Dairy Farmers of America, estimating as much as 3.7 million gallons of milk being dumped by farmers each day. And, “a single chicken processor is smashing 750,000 unhatched eggs every week.”

Other media reports throughout April described producers gassing pigs and chickens and aborting piglets. A recent report by Reuters details how Iowa farmer Al Van Beek had nowhere to ship his pigs in order to make room for the 7,500 piglets he was expecting from his breeder sows. “He ordered his employees to give injections to the pregnant sows, one by one, that would cause them to abort their baby pigs.”

On April 28th, The National Pork Board published a document entitled COVID-19: Animal Welfare Tools for Pork Producerslisting permitted methods of mass euthanasia. These include gunshot, manual blunt force trauma, electrocution, carbon dioxide, and “in times of constrained circumstances,” like right now: ventilation shutdown plus.

According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, “ventilation shutdown involves closing up the house [barn/ shed], shutting inlets, and turning off the fans. Body heat from the herd raises the temperature in the house until animals die from hyperthermia. Numerous variables may make the time to death of 100% of animals in the barn subject to a range of times.” The plus included by the National Pork Board means adding carbon dioxide and/or simply turning up the heat.

This week, President Donald Trump signed an executive order, forcing U.S. slaughterhouses to remain open, deeming meat production “critical” despite concerns for worker safety. There are, however, questions about the capabilities of the order, and it is yet to be seen how it may be enacted.

No such order has been made in Canada, and so culling of farmed animals has begun, along with the dumping of milk and dairy. One farmer on Prince Edward Island reportedly killed 270 pigs last week, disposing of their bodies in a landfill. According to a tweet by Alberta Pork: “Some reports suggest more than 90,000 #pigs are likely to be disposed of by #farmers.”

Dr. Sylvain Charlebois, professor of food distribution and policy at Dalhousie University, puts estimates of dumped dairy at “anywhere between 50 to 160 million litres, across Canada.”

For the animals, this is a no-win situation, as they would have been exploited and killed one way or another. The waste of animal products, money, and other resources, as well as the unnecessary strain on the environment, only add insult to injury. What this unique situation especially illuminates though, is the glaring fragility and unsustainability of our current food system, as well as the lack of forethought, care, and compassion for those animals bound to be food.

Cedar COVID-19 Cluster: PETA Proposes Switch to Vegan Meat

Posted on  by PETA Australia

After almost 100 people connected to a West Melbourne abattoir operated by Cedar Meats tested positive for COVID-19, PETA has written to the company and suggested that it choose a new direction: stop killing animals and switch to producing vegan meats instead.

COVID-19 is a zoonotic disease caused by a virus that originated in a meat market. But long before this novel coronavirus emerged, potentially lethal viruses were already crossing the species barrier to humans from other animals.H1N1 (swine flu), which originated in pigs and killed as many as 575,400 people in the year after it began spreading in humans, was traced back to a US factory farm. H5N1 (bird flu), which can be contracted by humans who come into close contact with infected live or dead birds, has a mortality rate of up to 60% and is considered a concern by the World Health Organization because of its potential to mutate and become highly infectious via human-to-human contact.

Of course, the Cedar Meats COVID-19 cluster has not been caused by the slaughtering of infected animals. Nonetheless, abattoir workers are proving to be particularly vulnerable during the pandemic. More than 4,900 workers at meat-processing plants in the US have also contracted the virus, nearly 4% of the industry’s workforce.

Then of course, there’s the fact that breeding, confining, and slaughtering animals heightens the risk of the emergence of deadly pathogens – no matter the country. In a paper published in 2018, Belgian spatial epidemiologist Marius Gilbert found that more “conversion events” for bird flu – in which a not-very-pathogenic strain of the virus becomes more dangerous – had occurred in Australia than in China.

As the global death toll from the coronavirus pandemic climbs to over 300,000, we’re being given a stark warning: we can no longer breed and slaughter sentient beings – who suffer immensely – for foods we don’t need without grave consequences for human health.

Brands such as v2food, Tofurky, Beyond Meat, and The Meatless Farm Company are growing as more and more people choose to eat vegan. Even meat producers such as Tyson, Smithfield, Perdue, and Hormel have invested in the global vegan food market, which is projected to be worth around AU$49 billion by 2020. In Australia, the demand for plant-based meat products is forecast to generate 6,000 full-time jobs and add nearly AU$3 billion to the economy in the next 10 years.

There has never been a better time for businesses like Cedar Meats to make the vegan switch, and we’ll be on hand to help them if they decide to.

We can help you go vegan too! Click the button below for a free vegan starter kit.

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Vegan activists protest Spring meat processing center amid COVID-19 pandemic

Around a dozen protesters were camped out at the intersection outside the Fisher Ham and Meat Co. headquarters in Spring on Friday, demanding the meat processing facility be shut down amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Dani Alexander, one of the organizers of the event, called factory farms and slaughterhouses breeding grounds for new strains of dangerous bacteria and viruses, likening the spread of coronavirus from animals-to-humans to diseases such as bird flu and swine flu.

https://www.houstonchronicle.com/neighborhood/spring/news/article/Vegan-activists-protest-Spring-meat-processing-15273855.php#photo-19419456

Doctors Protest Continued Operation of Smithfield Foods Slaughterhouses In Virginia

Doctors to Protest Continued Operation of Smithfield Foods Slaughterhouses In Virginia

SMITHFIELD, Va.—Doctors with the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine called for the closure of meatpacking plants during a demonstration on May 14. The doctors will held signs reading “Support Workers, Close Meat Plants,” “Meat Worsens Diabetes & Blood Pressure,” and “Cholesterol Is Not Essential.” They maintained social distance while protesting outside of Smithfield Foods Headquarters, 200 Commerce Street, Smithfield, VA 23430, at the corner of Commerce Street and Luter Drive.

“Keeping Smithfield plants open harms the health of workers, the surrounding community, and consumers—all to line the pockets of the meat industry,” says Neal Barnard, MD, FACC, president and co-founder of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine.

More than 15,500 meat plant workers are infected with COVID-19, and at least 60 have died. With workers lined up in close proximity, viruses are easily spread within the slaughterhouse environment. Although studies show that infectious viruses easily survive during refrigeration and freezing, meat companies do not routinely test the extent to which meat products are contaminated with the virus.

Meat consumption raises the risk for many of the underlying medical conditions—diabetes, hypertension, obesity, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease—that can make COVID-19 infections more deadly. A recent study found that regular consumption of processed meat, red meat, or poultry increases the risk for cardiovascular disease. Research also links red meat, poultry, and fish to an increased risk for diabetes.

 

Media Contact

DONNA STEELE

202-527-7342

dsteele@pcrm.org

Founded in 1985, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine is a nonprofit organization that promotes preventive medicine, conducts clinical research, and encourages higher standards for ethics and effectiveness in education and research.

More on COVID-19

PETA Hits Major Papers With ‘America: It’s Time to Move Away From Meat’ Ad Blitz

As COVID-19 Spreads, Full-Page Ads Appeal to Consumers: ‘Eat as if Everyone’s Life Depends on It, Because It Does’

For Immediate Release:
May 14, 2020

Contact:
Megan Wiltsie 202-483-7382

Norfolk, Va. – Swine flu, bird flu, SARS, and now COVID-19 have all been linked to confining animals for consumption—but that point is often missed in conversations about preventing future pandemics. To put animals on the table, in the right way, PETA has hit The Washington Post, the Los Angeles TimesThe New York TimesThe Boston Globe, and other major dailies with full-page ads that urge people to think about the filth and cruelty inside factory farms and slaughterhouses—and consider being part of the solution by going vegan. Copies of the ads are available here.

“No one needs meat,” the ads underscore. “Eat as if everyone’s life depends on it, because it does.

“From swine flu to SARS to COVID-19, it’s as clear as the gloved hand in front of your masked face that eating animals is killing us,” says PETA President Ingrid Newkirk. “PETA’s ads directly tell the public that it’s about more than social distancing and hand sanitizer—it’s about what, or who, we’re putting on our plates.”

The Hill, the Washington Examiner, The San Diego Union-Tribune, and The Seattle Times also ran PETA’s ads, and others are pending approval. The New York Times and the Chicago Tribune rejected a version that ran in the Los Angeles Times. Other papers that rejected PETA’s ads include the Toronto Star, the National Review, and the New York Post.

To help everyone go vegan, PETA is offering free vegan starter kits, its one-on-one Vegan Mentor Program, and a list of vegan-friendly restaurant chains, many of which are still offering takeout during the pandemic, among other resources.

PETA—whose motto reads, in part, that “animals are not ours to eat”—opposes speciesism, which is a human-supremacist worldview. For more information, please visit PETA.org.

At least 4,500 Tyson workers have caught COVID-19, with 18 deaths. The meat giant still doesn’t offer paid sick leave, as the industry blames workers for outbreaks.

Workers leave the Tyson Foods pork processing plant in Logansport, Indiana, on May 7, 2020 (Michael Conroy_AP Photo
Workers leave the Tyson Foods pork-processing plant in Logansport, Indiana, on May 7. 
Michael Conroy/AP Photo
  • At least 4,585 Tyson workers in 15 states have been diagnosed with COVID-19, and 18 have died.
  • Tyson has announced improved safety measures and relaxed attendance policies, but it still does not offer full paid sick leave for workers, instead offering short-term disability that is 90% of workers’ pay.
  • Some politicians and meat-industry insiders have blamed the actions and “living circumstances” of employees — many of whom are immigrants — for plants becoming coronavirus hot spots.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Some meat-industry insiders and politicians are blaming employees for meat-processing plants becoming coronavirus hot spots.

Meanwhile, workers say their employers failed to keep them safe. And despite new safety policies, meat-industry giants including Tyson still do not provide full paid sick leave.

An analysis by Business Insider found at least 4,585 cases of COVID-19 and 18 deaths linked to Tyson. The cases span meat-processing plants in 15 states, according to data from state and local governments, the Midwest Center for Investigative ReportingThe Counter, and local news publications.

Tyson has highlighted the new steps it’s taking to protect workers, including taking temperatures, requiring face masks, instituting additional daily deep cleanings, and installing workstation dividers. The company says it has relaxed its attendance policy and waived the waiting period to qualify for short-term disability, as well as the copay, coinsurance, and deductible costs for COVID-19 testing.

However, Tyson still does not offer full paid sick leave; instead, it offers short-term disability. Until the end of April, Tyson’s short-term disability covered only 60% of pay. On April 29, the company said it raised short-term disability coverage to 90% of normal pay until the end of June.

A Tyson representative told Business Insider that the company increased its short-term disability pay as “another way of encouraging team members to stay home when they are sick.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has encouraged meat-processing plants to make it easier for workers to take paid sick leave to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Progressive organizers have argued that the lack of paid sick leave makes certain groups even more vulnerable, especially during the coronavirus pandemic.

“We see expanding access to paid sick leave, and family and medical leave, as an economic-justice issue,” said Nicole Regalado, the deputy director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s liberty division. “It’s also a women’s rights issue and a racial-justice issue.”

Some people are blaming meat-processing workers for their own illnesses

Tyson Foods coronavirus
A worker at a Tyson Foods plant in Rogers, Arkansas, on April 24. 
Tyson Foods

According to the Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting, there were at least 12,500 COVID-19 cases and 51 deaths in the meatpacking industry across the US as of Sunday.

Experts told Business Insider last week that meat-processing plants were the next coronavirus hot spots, as many of the largest clusters of COVID-19 cases have been linked to slaughterhouses.

As the number of COVID-19 cases has skyrocketed, some politicians and meat-industry insiders have blamed workers.

More than half of frontline workers in the meat-processing industry are immigrants, according to the Center for Economic and Policy Research. People of color also make up the majority of the meatpacking workforce: 44% of meatpackers are Latino and 25% are black.

South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem said in an interview with Fox News in April that Smithfield employees at a Sioux Falls meat-processing plant were not getting sick at work but at home, “because a lot of these folks who work at this plant live in the same community, the same buildings, sometimes in the same apartments.”

At least 783 workers from the Smithfield plant have been diagnosed with COVID-19, and two have died.

In late April, a Smithfield representative echoed Noem’s comments, telling BuzzFeed News that the plant’s “large immigrant population” in which “living circumstances in certain cultures are different than they are with your traditional American family” contributed to the hundreds of COVID-19 cases.

A Smithfield representative told Business Insider that the BuzzFeed News article “is in no way, shape or form representative of our position on this topic.”

“They come from all over the world and speak dozens of languages and dialects. Our position is this: We cannot fight this virus by finger-pointing,” the representative said. “We all have a responsibility to slow the spread. At Smithfield, we are a family and we will navigate these truly challenging and unprecedented times together.”

Politico reported last week that Alex Azar, the health and human services secretary, said on a call in late April that clusters of COVID-19 cases in the meat-processing industry were more heavily linked to “home and social” aspects of employees’ lives, not the conditions in plants.

Last week, while discussing the legality of Wisconsin’s stay-at-home order, Wisconsin Supreme Court Chief Justice Patience Roggensack sparked backlash after saying a cluster of COVID-19 cases was tied to a JBS meat-processing plant and its workers, not “regular folks.”

Workers and unions representing employees of meat-processing plants have pushed back, saying employers failed to take the necessary precautions to keep employees safe. Bill Marler, an attorney, recently told Business Insider that America’s response to clusters in meat-processing plants had been influenced by who has become ill.

“If that was a grade school full of white kids, we’d all be freaking out,” Marler said of the Smithfield plant in Sioux Falls.

President Donald Trump signed an executive order in April demanding that meat-processing plants stay open to prevent meat shortages. Experts have said that with pork and beef production plunging by 35% because of plant closures, shortages and price inflation are nearly guaranteed in the coming months.

58 percent of workers at Tyson meat factory in Iowa test positive for coronavirus

More than 700 employees at a Tyson Foods meat factory in Perry, Iowa, have tested positive for coronavirus as the nation braces for a possible meat shortage due to the pandemic.

An Iowa Department of Public Health report released Tuesday showed that 58 percent of the factory’s workforce had tested positive for the virus, according to NBC affiliate WHO. The news comes just days after nearly 900 workers were confirmed to have the virus at a Tyson Foods plant in Indiana.

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Tyson Foods said in a statement that the pandemic has forced the company to slow production and close plants in Dakota City, Nebraska, and Pasco, Washington, and the Perry plant as well.

“We have and expect to continue to face slowdowns and temporary idling of production facilities from team member shortages or choices we make to ensure operational safety,” the statement said.

John Tyson, board chairman of Tyson Foods, warned that the food-supply chain is breaking in a full-page advertisement published last month in The New York Times, The Washington Post and the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

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Tyson Foods is not the only meat company facing worker infections. A Smithfield Foods plant in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, closed in April after two workers died and 783 others tested positive for the virus.

The pandemic’s impact on meat plant workers has caused serious concerns about the supply chain in the U.S. and fears that the country could experience a meat shortage.

President Donald Trump signed an executive order to compel meat processing plants to stay open last week using the Defense Production Act. Trump said he will also provide liability protection.

“We have had some difficulty where they are having a liability where it’s really unfair to them,” Trump said at a small-business event at the White House last week. “I fully understand that it’s not their fault.”

Joe Biden, the apparent Democratic presidential nominee, said Monday that he feared for those meatpacking workers. He said that such plants, along with nursing homes, have become “the most dangerous places there are right now.”

“They designate them as essential workers and then treat them as disposable,” Biden said of the meatpackers.

Tyson warns more meat plant closures are coming

New York (CNN Business)Tyson warned Monday that it expects more meat plant closures this year.

The company also said it will continue producing less meat than usual, as workers refrain from coming to work during the coronavirus pandemic.
“We have and expect to continue to face slowdowns and temporary idling of production facilities from team member shortages or choices we make to ensure operational safety,” the company said in a statement discussing financial results from the first three months of this year.
“We will not hesitate to idle any plant for deep cleaning when the need arises,” CEO Noel White added during an analyst call Monday.
The meat processor has shuttered a number of plants in recent weeks as workers fall ill with Covid-19. It’s warned that if the closures continue, America’s food supply will suffer.
“There will be limited supply of our products available in grocery stores until we are able to reopen our facilities that are currently closed,” Board chairman John Tyson warned in a full-page ad that appeared recently in newspapers across the country.

The Trump administration wants plants to reopen

Tyson warned that more disruptions are ahead.

In an executive order signed last week, the president gave Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue the power to invoke the Defense Production Act to force companies to keep their plants open. The order, however, has not led to a widespread reopening of meat production plants.
In a statement responding to the directive, Smithfield lauded the decision but noted that it is “evaluating next steps to open its currently shuttered facilities and will make announcements when it is ready to resume operations in each location.”
The day after the president signed the order, JBS USA announced it would partially reopen its pork production facility in Worthington, Minnesota — but only to euthanize hogs that won’t be processed because of bottlenecks in the supply chain.
“While our focus is on getting the Worthington facility back to work on behalf of our team members producing food for the nation, we believe we have a responsibility to step up when our producer partners are in need,” Bob Krebs, President of JBS USA Pork, said in a statement. “None of us want to euthanize hogs, but our producers are facing a terrible, unprecedented situation.”
The National Pork Producers Council also praised the order but acknowledged that hogs will still go to waste.
“While getting pork packing plants back online is foundational, the tragic reality is that millions of hogs can’t enter the food supply,” the council said in a statement, adding “we need coordinated partnership between the industry and federal, state and local authorities to euthanize pigs.”
The pandemic has halved the amount of pork processing capacity in the country, according to the company.
The challenge for Tyson: While meat processing plants have ground to a stop, consumer demand for meat is up.
Tyson (TSN) reported selling 2.7% more more beef by volume in the first three months of the year compared to the same period in 2019. Pork sales popped 2% by volume, while chicken sales fell 1.5%, partially because of restaurant closures due to the pandemic.
Overall, retail sales are up about 30% to 40%, White estimated. In food service, he added, sales have fallen about 25% to 30%