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A House Panel Is Investigating the Meat Industry’s Response to COVID-19

A House of Representatives panel is investigating how meat plants handled the COVID-19 outbreaks in their facilities. The chair of the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis, Rep. James Clyburn, sent letters to Tyson Foods, Smithfield Foods, and JBS USA—three of the largest meat producers in the United States.

The letters state that nearly 54,000 workers at 596 meatpacking plants across the country have tested positive for COVID-19. At least 270 of these have died. Representative Clyburn asks the meat producers for information on employee complaints, the number of sick employees, plant closures, safety measures, and other details about how the companies have handled COVID-19. The letters state:

[Meatpacking companies] have refused to take basic precautions to protect their workers, many of whom earn extremely low wages and lack adequate paid leave, and have shown a callous disregard for workers’ health.

According to public health reviews, slaughterhouse workers have not been the only ones affected by the meat companies’ negligence. Outbreaks originating in slaughterhouses often spread to surrounding communities. Researchers at the University of Chicago and Columbia University found that in the early stages of the pandemic, as many as one in 12 COVID cases could be tied to meat plants.

Tyson Foods is currently facing a lawsuit brought by the family of a slaughterhouse worker who died from COVID-19. The lawsuit alleges not only that Tyson Foods failed to protect its employees from the disease but that a plant manager organized a betting pool on how many workers would contract it.

Amid a surge in COVID-19 cases, Tyson’s Waterloo plant remained open for nearly two weeks after local officials requested that it temporarily shut down. According to the lawsuit, Tyson Foods downplayed the spread of the disease and went as far as offering bonuses for workers who came in and finished their shifts—even if they were sick.

In addition to letters to major meat companies, Clyburn sent a letter to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). In the letter, he asks the federal agency to explain the lack of penalties issued against the meatpacking plants. The letter states:

OSHA issued penalties related to the coronavirus totaling over $3.9 million, but the agency issued only eight citations and less than $80,000 in penalties for coronavirus-related violations at meatpacking companies.

The abuse of animals and the oppression of factory-farm and meatpacking workers are interconnected. We must dismantle all aspects of the cruel meat industry and stand up for everyone who suffers at its hands. By no longer supporting this abusive industry, we can help create a better world for all. Download our free Vegetarian Starter Guide to learn how you can start adding delicious plant-based meals to your routine.