Report: Meatpackers made ‘baseless’ shortage claims to keep plants running
Big U.S. meat industry pressed “baseless” claims of beef and pork shortages early in the pandemic to persuade the administration to keep processing plants running, disregarding the coronavirus risks that eventually killed 269 workers and sickened thousands more, according to a report by the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis, The Washington Post reported today.
Julie Anna Potts, president and CEO of the North American Meat Institute, which represents the packers, said the committee had ignored the measures that the companies had taken to protect employees and “done the nation a disservice” with the report.
In a news release, Potts said, “The Meat Institute and its member companies voluntarily provided hundreds of thousands of pages to the committee. The report ignores the rigorous and comprehensive measures companies enacted to protect employees and support their critical infrastructure workers.
“The meat and poultry industry, like many industries, was challenged by the pandemic in the spring of 2020. As more became known about the spread of the virus, the meat industry spent billions of dollars to reverse the pandemic’s trajectory, protecting meat and poultry workers while keeping food on Americans’ tables and our farm economy working.
“The House Select Committee has done the nation a disservice. The committee could have tried to learn what the industry did to stop the spread of COVID among meat and poultry workers, reducing positive cases associated with the industry while cases were surging across the country. Instead, the committee uses 20/20 hindsight and cherry-picks data to support a narrative that is completely unrepresentative of the early days of an unprecedented national emergency.”
National Chicken Council President Mike Brown said, “NCC member companies have long been committed to protecting and enhancing worker safety, a commitment that well predates the COVID-19 pandemic. But when the COVID-19 pandemic reached American shores, it was immediately clear that worker safety would be paramount.
“As a critical infrastructure sector staffed by essential workers, the chicken industry was presented with a seemingly impossible task – keep food on the tables and keep workers safe, all in the face of a highly transmissible and all-but unknown virus. Our industry could not work from home. There is no ‘hybrid’ option for the workers of the chicken industry. Our workers bravely came into work, while member companies diligently implemented protective measures. The chicken industry’s workers are heroes, just like the nation’s grocery store workers, firefighters, medical personnel and police, none of whom have the luxury of working from home. It is important to remember just how uncertain and chaotic the early days of the pandemic were.
“The chicken industry, as with other critical industries, was on the front lines and absorbed blows as the first wave of COVID-19 swept across the country. To be clear, the effects of COVID-19 have been grievous, and no industry sector was spared. But although the challenge was immense, the people who make up the chicken industry showed enormous resiliency and innovative spirit in responding. Workplaces were adapted, and then adapted again as we learned more about the virus. The data show these efforts worked.
“NCC member companies faced a daunting task, and they did everything they could to keep their workers safe while keeping food on Americans’ tables. NCC used its unique position as a national trade association to help member companies succeed in this mission.
“We regret that this report failed to shine light on the momentous efforts between industry, government and state and local health officials to keep employees safe and to keep Americans fed during one of the most challenging and uncertain times in our nation’s history.
“The chicken industry is deeply grateful for the frontline workers who did their part to support the nation. NCC stands by its actions and those of its members during the pandemic.”
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