Meat Industry Still Grappling With COVID-19

Worrying statistics about a troubled industry

Meat inspection
Plenty has changed about meat production over the years.
ator Department of Agriculture
By Tobias Carroll / May 27, 2020 9:21 am

It’s a strange time for meat in America. Shortages of meat as a result of the pandemic have prompted some people to embrace plant-based alternatives. More ominously, meatpacking facilities have emerged as hubs of COVID-19 infection. WIRED article published earlier this month noted that these spaces are contributing to the disease’s spread. “In recent weeks, beef, pork, and poultry processing plants across the US have emerged as dangerous new hot spots for the deadly respiratory disease, which can also cause damage to the heart, kidneys, and brain,” wrote Megan Molteni.

Meat and poultry facilities have also become a political hot spot, with President Trump using an executive order in late April to keep them open.

In the weeks since then, conditions haven’t necessarily improved. At Grub Street, Chris Crowley has alarming news about the meat production industry and COVID-19. Crowley’s report brings together a number of worrying statistics. This includes a pair of reports indicating that infections within the industry have gone from 5,000 at the end of April to 17,000 at present. Crowley also cites a Washington Post article highlighting a trio of food companies dealing with an alarming rise in cases:

… infections at Tyson Foods, Smithfield Foods, and JBS have gone from 3,000 to over 11,000 over the last month. Worker deaths have increased from 17 to no less than 63.

As Crowley notes, meatpacking jobs were already considered dangerous — with troubling working conditions to boot — long before COVID-19 was on anyone’s radar. (Unfortunately, that’s been the case for a very long time.) The issues at hand here seem to be less brand-new problems for the industry and more of an exponential increase of existing ones.

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