The Food & Environmental Reporting Network looks at why Europe did not suffer the same meatpacking crisis from Covid-19 as the US.
In late April, around the time that President Donald Trump signed an executive order declaring US meatpacking plants to be “critical infrastructure” in an effort to keep them open after they emerged as coronavirus hotspots, Germany’s slaughterhouses reported their first cases of the virus. In the ensuing weeks, as the number of cases in Germany’s meat plants has climbed to at least 989, according to media reports and information from trade unions, the response from government has been strikingly different than in the United States.
While Trump’s order was widely seen as an appeasement of the meat industry, one that took decisions of whether to close plants with coronavirus clusters out of the hands of local officials, the German government has come down on the side of the workers. Its labor minister expressed shame over the precarious living and working conditions for slaughterhouse employees and vowed “to be led not by lobbying interests but by the public good.” The cabinet has proposed a series of reforms that would increase regulation of the industry and transform its labor practices, analysts say, though they face strong opposition from industry groups.
The contrast in these official responses is perhaps the starkest example of how differently the coronavirus crisis in the meat industry is playing out in Europe and the United States. But it’s not the only one. More than nine times as many meat industry workers have tested positive for coronavirus in the United States than in Europe – and dozens more American workers have died – according to figures from governments, media reports and unions, though the U.S. meat industry employs only a third more people.