BREAKING: Just two days after Tyson’s full-page ad ran and hours after this blog post was published, President Trump announced plans to sign an executive order requiring slaughterhouses to stay open—despite their dangerous working conditions. To make matters worse, Trump said he would shield meatpacking companies from liability should workers seek damages for being inadequately protected. This is not the solution to our fragile food system. Tweet at @realDonaldTrump, and let him know that our government should focus on long-term, systematic changes, not bailouts and overreaching protections for Big Ag and factory farms.
On Sunday, Tyson Foods board chairman John Tyson placed a full-page advertisement saying, “The food supply chain is breaking.” The ad, which ran in the New York Times, Washington Post, and Arkansas Democrat-Gazette (and which likely cost over $200,000), stated that millions of pounds of meat would “disappear from the food supply chain” and that “millions of animals” would be killed on-farm.
The COVID-19 pandemic has created far-reaching challenges affecting all industries, but some were less prepared than others. Several meat processing plants nationwide have shut down, as their unsafe working conditions and failure to implement CDC-recommended safety protocols have likely caused hundreds of employees to contract the coronavirus. As of April 23, according to the Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting, over 3,000 positive cases tied to meatpacking plants have been reported, with at least 17 worker deaths.
The Smithfield Foods plant in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, one of the largest pig slaughterhouses in the United States, shut down indefinitely after becoming a top hotspot for COVID-19 cases. And just last week, Tyson Foods closed its largest pork plant after it was blamed for fueling the biggest COVID-19 outbreak in Iowa’s Black Hawk County. Over 180 infections have been linked to the plant. This closure came only after 18 state officials sent letters to the company urging it to close. Iowa’s worker safety agency even announced that it was investigating the plant.
Additionally, restaurant closures and a lull in export markets have contributed to a decline in demand for meat. Tyson’s advertisement reads in part:
Farmers across the nation simply will not have anywhere to sell their livestock to be processed. … Millions of animals—chickens, pigs and cattle—will be depopulated because of the closure of our processing facilities. The food supply chain is breaking.
“Depopulation” is an industry term for killing animals en masse at farms. Approved methods for such killing outlined by the American Veterinary Medical Association include some that are downright cruel. One method for chicken farms, commonly used to kill entire populations during avian flu outbreaks, is to cover the birds with water-based foam so they suffocate. Poultry scientist Dr. Ian Duncan of the University of Guelph in Ontario said:
Foam is a horribly inhumane way to kill birds. You can’t tell if they are suffering or vocalizing because they are covered up.
Another inhumane method of killing unwanted animals is “thumping,” where workers kill piglets by slamming them headfirst into the ground. Undercover investigators with Mercy For Animals have documented this barbaric practice numerous times.
Citing business disruptions related to COVID-19, the National Pork Producers Council has threatened that the industry will kill and discard baby pigs unless it receives a $1 billion government bailout. In Delaware, a chicken company has already directed farmers to kill millions of chickens. More members of the National Chicken Council may soon do the same.
COVID-19 has shown just how fragile and broken our industrial food system is. Mercy For Animals is urging the USDA and the powerful meat lobby not to use taxpayer dollars to fund an industry that threatens to kill and throw away millions of animals on farms.
Join us in demanding that taxpayer money be used for long-term, systematic solutions, like helping farmers transition to plant-based farming.
Visit MercyForAnimals.org/NoSlaughterBailout to take action.