JBS president defends COVID-19 response

Tim Schellpeper

The past six months have been the most difficult period of my 35-year career — and I know I’m not alone. Seemingly overnight, we were all confronted with the greatest public health crisis of our generation.

In Colorado, more than 54,000 people have caught coronavirus, costing us more than 1,900 lives. Across Weld County, nearly 3,900 people have been infected, with 145 lives lost.

Sadly, our JBS USA family has felt the pain of loss directly. The virus tragically claimed the lives of six of our plant team members and one of our corporate colleagues, all of whom were vital members of our Greeley community. They are sorely missed by co-workers, friends and families.

During this pandemic, American agriculture and our essential workers have faced the unprecedented challenge of showing up every day when much of the country stayed home. Our work could not stop nor be conducted from home. We had to learn, adapt and adjust our operations in the face of ever-changing medical opinion, while keeping our doors open because a society without food cannot survive.

As the leader of our U.S. beef business, I have focused on doing everything possible to protect our team members who are feeding our community, state and nation. This remains my focus.

A false narrative has been created that says we have not responded to Colorado’s outbreak, ignored guidance and implemented safety measures too late to protect our team members. The truth is that the virus struck Colorado early and we responded early. None of our fallen team members worked in the plant after March 30 — four days after our first confirmed case and five days after the state-issued stay-at-home order.

Since February, we have invested millions of dollars to implement hundreds of safety interventions, often exceeding guidance. We banned plant visitors before Colorado saw its first case. We increased disinfection efforts before a state of emergency was declared. We removed vulnerable populations with full pay and benefits before there was a single case among our Greeley workforce.

In February and March, most experts said masks were ineffective and should only be used by healthcare workers. We ordered and mandated the use of masks on March 19, two weeks before their use was recommended. We even shared masks with competitors who needed them.

We fundamentally altered our facility and safety protocols, which have been reviewed and approved by health experts at CDC, OSHA, NIOSH, Weld County, the state of Colorado and by third-party epidemiologists.

We have rewarded our Greeley team members with more than $16 million in increased pay and bonuses, made testing available to 100% of our workforce and will soon begin surveillance testing. We have committed $5 million in Greeley to keep our Hometown strong in the future.

Colorado is our home. Weld County is our home. Greeley is our hometown. We live, work and raise our families here. Our team includes multi-generational Weld families, transplants from across America, and new Americans building lives here. We come from many backgrounds, but we all work together to ensure families across our country have safe, quality food.

The blatantly dishonest claims that we have done nothing are a transparent attempt to leverage a local tragedy into a national, self-promotion campaign. These false claims are an insult to our team members, local officials and the health professionals fighting this pandemic on the frontlines.

We are grateful that since June 1, we have had only nine positive cases among our Greeley plant workforce, while the state has had more than 27,000. We hope this is a result of our safety protocols, new ventilation systems, health screenings, physical distancing and abundant PPE.

We all face an unseen enemy that continues to spread. No one can be perfect in a moment like this, but we have fought every day, and we’re committed to continue fighting, learning and improving to make things safer, better and stronger. ❖

— Schellpeper is the president of the Fed Beef Division of JBS USA. This guest column first appeared in The Greeley Tribune.