Thursday, December 2, 2021

At least 59,000 U.S. butchers were infected with COVID-19 in 2020, 269 died

OMAHA, Nebraska (AP) – At least 59,000 meat processing plant workers fell ill with COVID-19 and 269 workers died when the virus hit the industry last year, significantly more than previously thought, according to a new report from the US House of Representatives released Wednesday. …

With workers standing shoulder to shoulder along production lines, the meat processing industry was one of the earliest epicenters of the coronavirus pandemic. The US House of Representatives Coronavirus Crisis Subcommittee, which used internal documents from the five largest meat processing companies for its report, said the companies could do more to protect their workers.

The industry’s new infection estimate is nearly three times higher than the 22,400 people the United Food and Commercial Workers Union said were infected. And the true number of infections could be even higher, because company documents usually do not take into account cases of coronavirus confirmed by external testing or self-assessment of employees.

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At the height of the outbreak last spring, U.S. meat packaging production fell to about 60% from normal as several large factories were forced to temporarily close for deep cleaning and improved safety, or operated at lower speeds due to labor shortages. The report says companies have been slow to take protective measures such as checking employee temperatures, distributing protective equipment such as masks, and installing barriers between workplaces.

“Rather than focusing on clear signs that workers were contracting the coronavirus at an alarming rate due to conditions in meat packing plants, meat packing companies put profit and production ahead of worker safety by continuing to apply practices that led to overcrowded facilities. in which the virus spread easily, ”the message says.

The North American Meat Institute’s trade group defended the industry’s response to the pandemic.

“Cutting-edge workers in the meat and poultry industry were among the first to be hit by the pandemic, but public data confirms that the comprehensive measures taken in the sector since spring 2020, including extensive infection prevention and vaccination measures, have successfully protected a loyalist. business and diverse workforce as they continued to feed Americans and keep our economy running, ”said Julie Anna Potts, president and CEO of the trading group

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Report based on documents from JBS, Tyson Foods, Smithfield Foods, Cargill, and National Beef. Together they control over 80% of the US beef market and over 60% of the pork market nationwide.

Cargill, Tyson, and JBS issued statements Wednesday saying they have worked hard to meet federal health and safety standards regarding the coronavirus and have taken additional measures to protect their employees, such as conducting large-scale testing in the midst of a pandemic and urging employees to undergo vaccination.

READ MORE: Tyson Suspends Iowa Plant Managers Who Allegedly Gambled On COVID-19 Outbreaks

“Throughout the pandemic, we have worked hard to ensure a safe and stable operation. At the same time, we did not hesitate to temporarily shut down our refineries or reduce capacity when we felt it was necessary, ”said Cargill spokesman Daniel Sullivan.

Companies have expressed regret over the damage caused by the virus.

“Even one illness or death due to COVID-19 is too many, so since the beginning of the pandemic, we have taken consistent action to protect the health and safety of our employees, including extensive trials and a vaccine requirement that has resulted in more than 96% of our vaccines being vaccinated. workforce in the US, ”said Tyson spokesman Gary Mickelson.

Infection rates were particularly high in some meat processing plants, according to the report. For example, 54% of employees at JBS’s Hyrum, Utah plant contracted the virus between March 2020 and February 2021. Nearly 50% of the workers at the Tyson plant in Amarillo, Texas, were infected during the same period. And 44% of employees at the National Beef plant in Tama, Iowa contracted COVID-19 between April 2020 and February 2021.

Nation World News Desk
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