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COVID-19 Cases and Deaths at Meatpacking Plants Much Higher Than Estimated

A new report reveals that COVID-19 cases and deaths at U.S. meatpacking plants are up to three times higher than previously estimated. Among other things, the report indicates a lack of safety protections for workers. This is not surprising—the meat industry has a long history of abusing both people and animals. 

Conducted by the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis, the report surveys five giant meat companies that dominate the U.S. beef and pork markets: Tyson Foods, JBS USA, Cargill, National Beef, and Smithfield Foods. 

The subcommittee found that through January of this year, there had been 59,147 cases of COVID-19 and a heartbreaking 269 deaths among workers at these companies’ meatpacking plants. The Food and Environment Reporting Network had estimated a more modest (but still horrifying) 22,694 COVID-19 cases and 88 deaths as of September 8, 2021. 

Some of the specific numbers are even more shocking. The subcommittee found that an incredible 50 percent of workers at Tyson’s beef plant in Amarillo, Texas, and JBS’s beef plant in Hyrum, Utah, had contracted the virus. It also describes weak safety precautions, reporting that the Amarillo workers were not socially distanced and wore masks “saturated” with fluids. The report states:

Without being held to any specific standard, meatpacking companies were left with largely unchecked discretion to determine how to respond to the coronavirus pandemic, to the detriment of meatpacking workers.

Throughout the pandemic, slaughterhouses across the United States have become COVID-19 hotspots. In large part, this is because major meat companies have failed to protect their workers. 

When a Smithfield Foods plant in Sioux Falls, South Dakotaone of the largest pig slaughterhouses in the United Stateswas forced to shut down last year because of a massive COVID-19 outbreak, a Smithfield spokesperson blamed the workers, saying, “Living circumstances in certain cultures are different than they are with your traditional American family.”

We can stand up against this cruel system by refusing to support it. By choosing delicious plant-based foods, we are telling the meat industry that its abuse of both people and animals is unacceptable. Check out our free veg starter guide to learn how.