Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Corona Virus and the Food Industry

"As of August 10 ... at least 54,738 workers (40,476 meatpacking workers, 8,450 food processing workers, and 5,812 farmworkers) have tested positive for Covid-19 and at least 235 workers (187 meatpacking workers, 34 food processing workers, and 14 farmworkers) have died."

I've written before about our family decision to buy little or no meat because of the extreme carelessness of the meat-packing industry concerning worker health and safety during the pandemic. Today I decided to check into any progress in this issue. Unfortunately, if anything, it's getting worse. The major meat packing plants are the most egregious -- they continue to employ many minority workers in very terrible conditions, without adequate protection from the virus. (Note, however, that I do not believe that the meat itself is unsafe, in deciding to avoid meat, it's the workers I care about. )

Looking for updates on this situation, I found a continuously updated article "Mapping Covid-19 outbreaks in the food system" by Leah Douglas, which appears on the Food & Environment Reporting Network (FERN) website (https://thefern.org/2020/04/mapping-covid-19-in-meat-and-food-processing-plants/). Especially interesting is this graphic view of which companies have the worst record:

Covid-19 Cases By Company from FERN article.
The original diagram allows you to look at the numbers for each company.

Obviously, this is a terrible situation for the workers in a workforce that includes many immigrants and minorities whose desperation to have a job often overrides their desire to be safe. The abuse of this vulnerable segment of society is one more reason to question the business practices of the big meat processors, and to avoid their products.

The chairman of the board of Tyson's, the worst offender -- has published several guest editorials to justify or to hide the situation, and to assert that meatpacking is so essential to feeding America that it shouldn't be regulated. Smithfield, another of the major corporate offenders, has recently published advertisements to try to soothe the public reaction to their irresponsible policies.

About a full-page Smithfield ad in the New York Times last week, nutritionist Marion Nestle wrote a blog post titled "Hypocritical food ad of the week: Smithfield complains about its critics." She says:
"Smithfield is Big Pork. It complains in this ad of critics who, it says, are 'cynics and skeptics' who 'don’t understand the notion of responsibility to others' and are 'seeking opportunities to advance their activist agenda.'

"Smithfield, the ad says, puts its 'Smithfield family and country first. By implementing aggressive measures to protect their health and safety during this pandemic. By rewarding our team members on the frontline.'”

"The ad does not mention the number of Covid-19 cases among workers in its plants." (source: https://www.foodpolitics.com/2020/08/hypocritical-food-ad-of-the-week-smithfield-on-its-critics/)

Another answer to this campaign by the meatpacking industry titans came from Food Safety News writer Savannah Clay in an article titled "Change in the Time of COVID-19" published on July 6, 2020:
"If it was truly about feeding America, wouldn’t Tyson and Smithfield’s and JBS work with regulators to provide their essential workers with the appropriate PPE and restructure the working environment to allow 6 ft between each worker. Wouldn’t these big companies look at how their facilities are turning into hotbeds and take this not as an indication that there is a threat to their bottom line, but that there is a threat to their employees? It is not just the employees who are at increased risk in these facilities. Meat inspectors, who are required by law to be in facilities if these facilities want to run, are experiencing higher rates of infection. What do we do if there are not enough inspectors to adequately inspect the products these plants are producing?" (source: https://www.foodsafetynews.com/2020/07/change-in-the-time-of-covid-19/
You can see why Len and I are not changing our view that it's wrong to buy meat from the industrial meat processors, which produce most of the meat that we could get in the supermarket. We are definitely not "cynics" or "skeptics" or opportunists with hidden goals. We simply have a desire for justice towards people who are less fortunate than we are.

There's another questionable thing about eating meat as well: the farming of cattle and sheep, especially, but also of other meat animals, is seriously bad for the environment and contributes disproportionately to global warming. That, however is a topic for another time.

Blog post © 2020 by mae sander for mae food dot blog spot dot com.


Tandy | Lavender and Lime (http://tandysinclair.com) said...

I read an article on Smithfield’s early on in the pandemic. It's scary. Here our fishing industry got badly hit when the crew of one boat got ill, and packing plants were affected early on. But the numbers are so low when compared to yours. I agree with your decision as the companies need to be held responsible for how they treat their staff at all times.

Iris Flavia said...

Crazy/scary, it´s the very same over here, what´s wrong with the meat industry?!
It seems garbage men/women get a better salary, I see and hear many Germans.

Food industry? People from the East who have to accept little money, who don´t speak the language here and hence don´t understand and hug and kiss and whatever.

Does not go for all, certainly! We have small farms where animals are treated as good as can be and the prices for the meat are not that much higher even.
They should be, so people get an idea of "value", of life, of quality.
Or... hahaha, just kidding... "wanna eat meat? Here is an axe and chicken, go!" Bet most would take a carrot!

David M. Gascoigne, said...

I applaud your ethical stand. Bravo!

Jeanie said...

Well written, researched and implemented. Well done, Mae.

Marg said...

It's interesting that the meat industry has been one of the cluster centres in Australia too.

judee said...

My father was a federal meat inspector in the 1970's. The conditions for the animals and the workers was horrendous then, and he frequently had to shut down factories for covering up disease, filth, etc with ground meat. The treatment of chickens and the workers were even worse. Things never really got better in these factories. I became a vegetarian years ago because I recognized that it was our high demands for meat and chicken that were driving this insane industry. Yes, it is sad that Covid is yet another reason to stop or reduce consumption of meat and chicken.

Melissa said...

My husband and I have been vegetarians for more then 25 years, and our daughter has been one for approximately a year or so. Our son is the last holdout; he's a diehard carnivore and I've told him that I don't feel comfortable buying meat during this time. We compromised on getting meat from a local farm. It's more expensive than the supermarket but worth it. Scary times.