Three hundred and sixty-nine agrifood workers have died from the coronavirus, according to research highlighted in US government action against meatpacking plants and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
In initiating its investigation, the Coronavirus Crisis Select Subcommittee has contacted Tyson, Smithfield Foods and JBS USA.
Non-profit investigator, the Environment Reporting Network puts the death rate from Covid-19 at 278 meatpacking workers, 48 food processing workers, and 43 farmworkers, as of February 5th.
It says that confirmed cases of Covid-19 have been traced to:
- 1,388 meatpacking and food processing plants
- 387 farms and production facilities
At least 86,945 workers have tested positive for Covid-19.
The Coronavirus Crisis Select Subcommittee says more than two-thirds of employees at meatpacking plants are Black or Hispanic, and almost half of employees live in low-income families.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is being investigated as only eight citations were issued last year, despite the number of outbreaks.
“I am concerned OSHA did not fullfill its mission to protect vulnerable meatpacking workers”
In one example, OSHA found 1,294 workers at a Sioux Falls, South Dakota plant contracted the coronavirus, and four died. However, it fined the plant’s owner, Smithfield Foods $13,49 – less than $11 per employee infected with the virus.
Chairman of the Subcommittee Rep James Clyburn contrasted this to what Smithfield paid its Chief Executive Officer in 2019 – $14 million.
He said, “In the last year, OSHA failed to issue enforceable rules, respond in a timely manner to complaints, and issue meaningful fines when a company’s unsafe practices led to the deaths of employees… I am concerned that… OSHA did not fulfill its mission to protect vulnerable meatpacking workers during the pandemic.”
The three meatpacking companies contacted had a combined total of at least 41 major outbreaks in meatpacking facilities across 20 states, including multiple outbreaks in the same facilities.
- JBS USA, the world’s largest meatpacker, has seen at least 3,000 employees contract the coronavirus, 18 of whom died.
- Tyson Foods has seen more than 12,000 workers contract the coronavirus and 38 die. Managers at one Tyson plant allegedly ordered workers to stay on the job and then placed bets on how many would contract the virus.
- Smithfield Foods, whose parent company reported $925 million in profit in the first half of 2020, has had over 3,500 workers contract the coronavirus and eight employees die.
Chairman Clyburn wrote, “Public reports indicate that meatpacking companies… have refused to take basic precautions to protect their workers, many of whom earn extremely low wages and lack adequate paid leave, and have shown a callous disregard for workers’ health.
“These actions appear to have resulted in thousands of meatpacking workers getting infected with the virus and hundreds dying. Outbreaks at meatpacking plants have also spread to surrounding communities, killing many more Americans.”