Meatpacking Plants and COVID: New Study Shows Devastating Link Between Outbreaks and Countywide Virus Transmission

Industry-friendly line speed policies must be changed to better protect public safety

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Food System

For Immediate Release

new study in Food Policy shows that COVID infections at large meatpacking facilities are associated with virus outbreaks in the county where those facilities are located. The study finds that almost 350,000 COVID-19 infections are “attributable to meatpacking plants in the U.S with associated mortality and morbidity costs totaling more than $11.2 billion.” 

Further, the study found that the presence of large beef packing facilities increased the per capita infection rates by 110%, compared to counties without meatpacking plants. Large pork and chicken processing facilities increased transmission rates by 160% and 20%, respectively.

In response to these findings, Food & Water Watch Executive Director Wenonah Hauter released the following statement:

“We have seen from the start of the COVID crisis that unsafe conditions in meatpacking plants have been exacerbating the spread of the disease.  Indeed, the working conditions that have hastened COVID transmission are precisely those that worker advocates have long cited as deadly and dangerous, even without a pandemic.

“These conditions are in no small part due to the push to increase line speeds at these plants. In 2014, the USDA promulgated rules allowing most poultry plants to increase their slaughter-line speeds so that plant employees must process carcasses at faster than two birds per second. In 2019, the Trump administration also issued illegal rules that would lift line speed limits altogether in swine slaughter plants. As recently as April of last year, the USDA granted new regulatory waivers to allow poultry operations to increase their line speeds even further.  The agency has already granted one line-speed waiver for a cattle slaughter plant, is poised to grant another, and intends to issue rules that would allow these plants to permanently increase their line speeds.

“To address this crisis and to protect these workers, Congress must ensure that meat and poultry companies are not allowed to put profits before worker safety and public health.”

Peter Hart, [email protected]