Big Ag Basically Wrote Trump’s Order to Keep Meatpacking Plants Open During COVID

A sign for The Smithfield Foods pork processing plant in South Dakota, one of the countrys largest known Coronavirus clusters, is seen on April 20, 2020 in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. (Kerem Yucel/AFP via Getty Images)

An indication for The Smithfield Foods pork processing plant in South Dakota, one of many countrys largest recognized Coronavirus clusters, is seen on April 20, 2020 in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. (Kerem Yucel/AFP through Getty Images)

Large meat producers promoted “baseless” fears they knew had been “flimsy or outright false” that shutting down meatpacking crops would trigger a meals scarcity, as a way to maintain employees on the job through the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, in accordance with a report printed Thursday by the House committee investigating the federal authorities’s coronavirus response.

Additionally, the authorized division of Tyson Foods, one of many largest meat producers within the U.S., drafted the idea for what turned an govt order by then=President Trump shielding meat firms from state and native laws and potential lawsuits from employees and households of employees who obtained sick, the report mentioned.

The report mentioned that Smithfield and Tyson “engaged in constant communications” with Trump appointees on the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the White House, together with White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows and Marc Short, Vice President Mike Pence’s chief of workers. Trump’s govt order, issued in late April 2020, invoked the Defense Production Act to maintain meat manufacturing crops open

“Meatpacking companies knew the risk posed by the coronavirus to their workers and knew it wasn’t a risk that the country needed them to take,” the report mentioned. “They nonetheless lobbied aggressively—successfully enlisting USDA as a close collaborator in their efforts—to keep workers on the job in unsafe conditions, to ensure state and local health authorities were powerless to mandate otherwise, and to be protected against legal liability for the harms that would result.”

After an outbreak at a Smithfield plant in South Dakota resulted in additional than 300 infections and briefly shut down manufacturing, Smithfield CEO Ken Sullivan mentioned the closures had been “pushing our country perilously close to the edge in terms of our meat supply.” 

But emails between officers on the North American Meat Institute, an trade group, mentioned that Smithfield “wanted us to issue a statement that there was plenty of meat, enough that it was for them to export,” and that Sullivan was “directing the panic.” 

The report additionally alleged that executives for at the least one giant meat producer knew concerning the excessive fee of transmission in meatpacking crops. In April 2020, a health care provider at a hospital close to a JBS Foods beef plant in Texas emailed JBS Foods’ head of company affairs saying that “100 percent” of sufferers on the time had been both JBS workers or workers’ members of the family, and that “your employees will get sick and may die if this factory continues to be open.”

“In 2020, as the world faced the challenge of navigating COVID-19, many lessons were learned and the health and safety of our team members guided all our actions and decisions,” a JBS spokesperson informed VICE News in an e-mail. “During that critical time, we did everything possible to ensure the safety of our people who kept our critical food supply chain running.”

“Over the past two years, our company has been contacted by, received direction from, and collaborated with many different federal, state and local officials – including both the Trump and Biden administrations – as we’ve navigated the challenges of the pandemic,” Tyson Foods spokesperson Gary Mickelson mentioned in a press release. “This collaboration is crucial to ensuring the essential work of the U.S. food supply chain and our continued efforts to keep team members safe.” 

Mickelson additionally mentioned Tyson “was supported by the Biden Administration as we became one of the first fully vaccinated workforces in the U.S,” and that the corporate has labored “cooperatively and frequently with local health department officials in our plant communities.”

Smithfield and National Beef didn’t instantly reply to a request for remark from VICE News Friday. Cargill, which is without doubt one of the 4 largest beef producers within the U.S., informed VICE News in an e-mail that “the safety of our employees is our number one priority.”

“Throughout the pandemic, we’ve worked hard to maintain safe and consistent operations,” a spokesperson mentioned in an e-mail. “At the same time, we have not hesitated to temporarily idle or reduce capacity at processing plants when we determined it necessary to do so.”

“The meat production system is a modern wonder, but it is not one that can be redirected at the flip of a switch,” Smithfield spokesperson Jim Monroe mentioned in a press release. “The concerns we expressed were very real and we are thankful that a food crisis was averted and that we are starting to return to normal…did we make every effort to share with government officials our perspective on the pandemic and how it was impacting the food production system? Absolutely.”

United Food and Commercial Workers International Union president Marc Perrone singled out Cargill as an employer that has “done what is right” in House testimony in June 2020. But even Cargill employees described being scared to return to work.

“On a normal day, we don’t have room for errors; it’s very hard work, and safety is our top priority,” one worker who had labored at a Cargill plant in Texas for 25 years mentioned in an April 2020 press name. “These are not normal days. Every day we worry about this virus.”

More than 86,000 meatpacking employees have contracted COVID and greater than 400 have died because the starting of the pandemic, in accordance with the Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting. One scientific research printed within the journal of the National Academy of Science estimated that as of July 2020, at the least 236,000 instances and 4,300 deaths had been linked to meatpacking crops. 

“The close coordination and the willful disregard for workers’ safety described in this report should concern us all,” ACLU of Nebraska authorized and coverage counsel Rose Godinez mentioned in a press release Friday.

“Companies put profits over workers’ lives as the pandemic hit their workers harder than any other industry in Nebraska, and agency officials let it happen. Nebraskans who are immigrants and Nebraskans of color then bore the brunt of the tragic human cost of those decisions.”

 “Today’s report confirms what we already knew–the Trump administration’s negligence and unethical actions endangered America’s meatpacking workers and their families at the height of the pandemic,” Perrone mentioned in a press release Thursday. 

 “UFCW repeatedly sounded the alarm about the Trump Administration’s failed oversight of the industry and its inability to protect the people that kept food on our nation’s tables. This report shows that their failure was not only tragic but a deliberate attempt to put industry profits ahead of the people just trying to make a living.”

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