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February 1, 2021

US Congress probing meatpackers over Covid deaths

A US Congress panel is investigating three of the country's largest meatpacking businesses in relation to worker deaths at their facilities during the Covid-19 pandemic.

By Leonie Barrie

A US Congress panel is investigating three of the country’s largest meatpacking businesses in relation to worker deaths at their facilities during the Covid-19 pandemic.

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by GlobalData
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The House of Representatives Coronavirus Subcommittee has asked the US arm of Brazilian beef giant JBS, domestic meat group Tyson Foods and Smithfield Foods, which is owned by China’s WH Group, to provide records of inspections, complaints and other internal documents as part of its investigation into “widespread coronavirus infections and deaths in meatpacking plants”. It wants to determine whether possible worker-safety rule breaches have occurred.

The panel has also asked the US Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to provide records of its efforts to enforce worker safety rules.

In a statement issued today (1 February), the committee said it is investigating coronavirus outbreaks at meatpacking plants nationwide, which have resulted in 54,000 workers at 569 meatpacking plants in the country testing positive for the virus and the deaths of at least 270 employees.   The committee said JBS USA has seen at least 3,000 employees contract the coronavirus and 18 of these employees had died. Tyson, the owner of brands including Jimmy Dean sausages, has seen more than 12,000 workers test positive for Covid-19 and 38 die from the virus. US pork-products major Smithfield has had more than 3,500 workers contract the coronavirus and eight employees die, the committee added.

Committee chairman James Clyburn said: “Public reports indicate that 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.  

“These actions appear to have resulted in thousands of meatpacking workers getting infected with the virus and hundreds dying. Outbreaks at meatpacking plants have also spread to surrounding communities, killing many more Americans.”

just-food asked JBS, Tyson and Smithfield for their reaction to the investigation and to respond to the committee chairman's comments.

Keira Lombardo, chief administrative officer at Smithfield, said: "As a critical food producer, we have taken seriously our responsibility to protect the health and safety of employees while continuing to provide food for our nation. From early in the pandemic, we have taken extraordinary measures to protect our team members from the virus and we have met or exceeded the prevailing federal, state and local health and safety guidance, including with personal protective equipment.

"It is unfortunate that there are inaccuracies and misinformation in the media on this issue and we look forward to providing the Subcommittee with correct information.

"As a company we have now invested more than US$700m in critical measures to protect employees, including on-site Covid-19 pre-screening and testing facilities, air purification systems; extensive physical barriers at work stations, employee protective equipment, such as shields and masks, significant facility modifications and expansion to ensure distancing in key areas, such as break and lunch rooms; thousands of sanitation stations and prominent banners and signage that outline and encourage safe practices in multiple languages and the addition of new employees whose sole job is to ensure distancing and sanitation practices are implemented correctly.

"We have also implemented generous leave programmes and established policies and protocols to ensure that Smithfield employees are free of a Covid-19 diagnosis and must not have any symptoms of Covid-19 to report to work. We have invested heavily in on-site testing and screening and have provided generous policies and paid leave to ensure employees stay at home when necessary."

A spokesperson for JBS USA said: "We welcome the opportunity to provide members of the Select Subcommittee [with] information regarding our response to the global pandemic and our efforts to protect our workforce. Since the onset of the pandemic, JBS USA has invested more than $200m in health and safety interventions, more than $160m in bonuses and permanent increased pay, and donated more than $50m to support our local communities.

"We have implemented hundreds of safety measures including offering unlimited PPE, constructing permanent physical barriers, establishing physical distancing protocols, and installing hospital-grade ventilation systems in all of our facilities. JBS USA provides immediate testing to all symptomatic team members and close contacts, and has conducted more than 45,000 surveillance tests of asymptomatic team members to date.

"In addition to the hundreds of safety measures implemented in our facilities, we have voluntarily removed vulnerable population groups with full pay and benefits, covered 100% of all Covid-19 related health expenses for our team members and family members enrolled in our health plan, and offered a $100 incentive bonus for any US team member willing to get vaccinated."

Related Companies

Free Whitepaper
img

What is the impact of China’s Zero-COVID lockdowns on economic activity, consumer goods and the foodservice industry?

While wanting to protect the country from being overwhelmed by Omicron, China’s adherence to a Zero-COVID policy is resulting in a significant economic downturn. COVID outbreaks in Shanghai, Beijing and many other Chinese cities will impact 2022’s economic growth as consumers and businesses experience rolling lockdowns, leading to a slowdown in domestic and international supply chains. China’s Zero-COVID policy is having a demonstrable impact on consumer-facing industries. Access GlobalData’s new whitepaper, China in 2022: the impact of China’s Zero-COVID lockdowns on economic activity, consumer goods and the foodservice industry, to examine the current situation in Shanghai and other cities in China, to better understand the worst-affected industry sectors, foodservice in particular, and to explore potential growth opportunities as China recovers. The white paper covers:
  • Which multinational companies have been affected?
  • What is the effect of lockdowns on foodservice?
  • What is the effect of lockdowns on Chinese ports?
  • Spotlight on Shanghai: what is the situation there?
  • How have Chinese consumers reacted?
  • How might the Chinese government react?
  • What are the potential growth opportunities?
by GlobalData
Enter your details here to receive your free Whitepaper.

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