Tuesday, April 28, 2020

COVID breakouts at food plants highlight economic and social problems

The chairman of Tyson Foods took out a full--page ad in numerous Sunday newspapers to say "the food supply chain is breaking," after coronavirus breakouts have led to food processing plants closing and shortages of workers, with the prospect of large amounts of meat rotting away.

Acting on those concerns from Big Food, President Trump says he will take action to keep things rolling on the line at those plants.
President Donald Trump on Tuesday said he would sign an executive order on food supply, as the U.S. was working with Tyson Foods during the coronavirus pandemic.

The order, reports the Associated Press, is meant to stave off a shortage of chicken, pork and other meat on U.S. supermarket shelves because of the coronavirus. The order will use the Defense Production Act to classify meat processing as critical infrastructure to keep production plants open, AP reported.

Speaking in the Oval Office with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, Trump said the order would address what he called “liability problems” in the food supply chain.

Meat-processing plants have weighed the risks of prosecution if they are blamed for spreading infection during the pandemic, as Indiana University’s Todd Haugh recently wrote. Tyson TSN, for example, suspended production at an Iowa pork processing plant due to a coronavirus outbreak among employees.
Riiight, it’s the liability for businesses that we should care about, Donnie. Not the fact that these food plants seem to be the main source of outbreaks in the Midwest in recent weeks, or the fact that so many workers in this critical field seem to not be able to have adequate protection from catching COVID-19.

Wisconsin has had plenty of these types of concerns at our state's food plants in recent weeks, including multiple incidences in and around Green Bay that has caused Brown County to have the highest rate of coronavirus infections in the state.
Of the county residents who've tested positive so far, 255 are employees of JBS Packerland, a meat-processing plant on Green Bay's east side. An additional 79 cases involved people linked to those employees.

At American Foods Group, another beef plant in Green Bay, 145 employees have tested positive, as well as seven people linked to those employees. The company was scheduled to conduct more testing at its Acme Street facility Tuesday afternoon, according to the Green Bay Police Department.

JBS has over 1,200 employees and American Foods over 1,500.

There was no update Tuesday on the number of cases tied to Salm Partners, a sausage maker in Denmark, south of Green Bay. Previously the county reported 23 cases tied to that business, which has about 450 employees.
A Titletown tradition.

There also has been a COVID outbreak reported at a Smithfield foods plant in Cudahy, causing OSHA to investigate and parts of the plant to shut down. But little else has been released to the public by either the company or local officials, which led two Milwaukee County supervisors from the area to ask why.
“We are in the midst of a public health emergency. People have a right know the truth about what appears to be a catastrophic outbreak in the own backyards. Workers have a right to know what risks they’ve been exposed to. I’m concerned that local elected officials are evading the public and the media and apparently colluding with Smithfield to hide the truth,” said Supervisor Shea.

“A large number of Smithfield employees live in my district and I believe the outbreak at the Cudahy plant is the reason for the current spike in Covid-19 cases in the 53215 ZIP code. Smithfield’s insistence on operating its facility during the Covid-19 pandemic may well have made the situation worse, and needlessly put thousands of people at risk of infection," said Supervisor Sylvia Ortiz-Velez.
A large amount of workers living so close to the edge without adequate pay or benefits that they have to risk their health and further infections in communities by continuing to go to work in food plants every day? This sounds familiar, and famous chef Jose Andres also saw history rhyming.

I can't help but notice that May 1 is on Friday, which is a day that many Latinos and other workers have rallied for action over the years, demanding to be respected and seen. Seems pretty timely right now, eh?

Might not be a bad time to bring that back....with provisions for safety and social distancing, of course.

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