Washington DC— Meat companies and the USDA’s Secretary of Agriculture, Sonny Perdue, are using unproven claims about food shortages to push reopening food processing facilities shutdown due to coronavirus related cases. But these same companies have stockpiles of large amounts of meat in cold storage that have been built up due to increased production, flat demand, and the Trump administration’s trade war. They also export large amounts of meat that could be rerouted for domestic sale.
In response, Wenonah Hauter, Food & Water Watch Executive Director issued the following statement:
“Keeping slaughter plants closed to protect workers from COVID-19 threatens the meat industry’s profits, not our country’s food supply. The U.S. exports 30% of its pork, which could be rerouted for domestic sales. Meanwhile, beef and pork exports were at record levels through February 2020 and U.S. broiler production was up 7.7% in January and February of 2020. One thing is for sure: corporate agriculture in this country overproduces and there is copious amounts of meat in cold storage across the board.
Rather than eat the costs of rerouting and reworking the system, industry is stoking fears of food scarcity to push to reopen coronavirus infected plants. This is an industry that is already swimming in profit. China- based WH Group (which owns Smithfield) was up 32% in 2019 compared to 2018. Tyson Foods, despite the setback caused by the fire in a Kansas slaughterhouse, still saw a 9% growth in sales.
Instead of protecting workers from this profit-driven industry, USDA is spending its time approving dangerous waivers to increase slaughter line speeds and agricultural mega mergers. USDA must force slaughterhouses to shut down and remain shut down as long as there are COVID-19 cases present. Companies must continue to pay workers for the duration of the shutdowns and test and clear all employees before they return to work. Every employee that does return must receive proper PPE and hazardous duty pay for the duration of the pandemic. Workers will continue to die if the food industry does not shift course fast.”