Senator Tammy Baldwin [D-WI] is calling for meat companies to be more transparent about slaughterhouse conditions amid the coronavirus pandemic.
In a letter sent to Andre Nogueira, the CEO of JBS USA Holdings Inc, Kenneth Sullivan, the CEO of Smithfield Foods, and Noel White, the CEO of Tyson Foods last week, Baldwin talked of her “grave concerns” about the “disturbing reports” surrounding unsafe working conditions in slaughterhouses.
She blamed “unwillingness” to implement safety precautions for the outbreaks of coronavirus in meatpacking plants.
“I urge you to immediately and fully implement the new CDC Guidance for Meat and Poultry Processing Workers and Employers,” she wrote. “I also encourage you to share any information you have about COVID-19 confirmed cases and exposure rates within your facility with health officials and the public to help prevent further spread of the virus.”
She added: “Your employees’ lives and the health and safety of the surrounding communities in which you operate depend upon your swift action.”
Meat Processing Plants and COVID-19
Health officials have confirmed a number of cases of COVID-19 at processing plants and slaughterhouses across the country. In April, 598 cases of coronavirus were reported at Smithfield Foods’ Sioux-Falls-based pork plant. Tyson Foods also shut down its pork processing plant in Logansport, Indiana after nearly 900 of its employees tested positive for the virus.
President Donald Trump signed an executive order last month forcing plants to remain operational despite the coronavirus outbreak.
After Trump signed the order, a number of workers expressed concern for their safety. One employee at Tyson Food’s Waterloo plant in Iowa told CNN Business: “All in all, it can be a good thing if done right. But my faith in this administration has never been strong and is nonexistent currently.”
In addition to a lack of protective equipment, social distancing is difficult to maintain inside a meat processing plant.
Last month, a lawsuit was filed against Smithfield. The complaint said workers must stand shoulder-to-shoulder. It also alleged that workers do not have frequent opportunities to wash their hands. When workers are sick, it is difficult for them to get time off.
Workers also said they are unable to cover their mouths if they sneeze or cough, for fear they will miss a piece of meat as it goes by on the assembly line. The New York Times reports that missing a piece of meat could result in disciplinary action.