Washington DC — In response to the coronavirus spreading rapidly through the meat industry, the national advocacy organization Food & Water Action is calling for the complete and immediate shutdown of all slaughterhouses where the coronavirus has appeared - in employees, on-site inspectors, etc. - in order to prevent the wider spread of the virus in the industry and a much greater disruption of the food supply chain in days and weeks to come. Employees should continue to be compensated for the duration of plant closures.
Additionally, Food & Water Action is calling on governors and the federal government to mobilize the National Guard to help redistribute existing food supplies and stockpiles as the virus sweeps across the country and concerns about access to food grow.
The National Guard, which has been providing other critical support throughout the pandemic, can help small- and medium-sized farms to distribute products like meat and dairy (which would otherwise go to waste) to communities that need them. Also, large supplies of meat currently in cold storage (normally purchased by commercial buyers) are available and could be distributed by the Guard on an emergency basis to grocery stores and food relief sites.
“The presence of the coronavirus at meat slaughter plants is reaching crisis proportions. If affected locations aren’t shut down immediately, the virus will rapidly spread through the entire industry, threatening food supply chains on an unprecedented scale,” said Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Action. “Meanwhile, unchecked corporate consolidation and lack of government oversight has created a Catch-22 for America’s small and mid-sized farms. There is plenty of food, but we must mobilize the National Guard to assist in redistribution so that it quickly reaches people in need. Our food system has been rigged to work for the benefit of corporate bottom lines and not farmers, workers and eaters. That needs to change immediately.
“Milk is being dumped, crops are being plowed under, and meat is sitting in cold storage around the country. We have more than enough food to meet demand, but because it was destined for commercial purchasers it is not making its way to people who need it. The National Guard could ensure our ample food supplies are available while also keeping small farmers afloat and providing supplies to food banks. The National Guard protects and serves our country during emergencies. Our food system is in an emergency. Let’s do something about it.”
As more and more meat industry workers and inspectors are sickened by the virus, USDA is simultaneously approving requests to increase slaughter line speeds that threaten food safety. The plants must remain closed until all employees are properly tested and screened for the COVID-19 virus, and directed to isolate in the case of infection or exposure until cleared to return to work.