Big Meat wants Congress to bail it out, even though the COVID-19 crisis has exposed how the industrial meat model—with its disease-ridden slaughterhouses and its unjust and monopolistic practices—is a total failure.
If you’d rather see Congress fund local meat processors who help build food security for your community, please ask Congress to support the Small Packer Overtime and Holiday Fee Relief for COVID-19 Act.
Workers at slaughterhouses processing meat for Cargill, JBS, Smithfield, Tyson and the other largest factory farm brands continue to get sick and die from COVID-19.
Big Meat corporations are doing everything they can to hide information about COVID-19 outbreaks at their facilities from the public.
But the Food & Environment Reporting Network (FERN) is trying to keep the public informed by tracking every reported coronavirus case in agriculture and food processing. Here’s the latest:
“According to data collected by FERN, as of June 15 at 12pm ET, at least 321 meatpacking and food processing plants and 39 farms and production facilities have confirmed cases of Covid-19, and no meat or food processing plants are currently closed. At least 31,262 workers (26,969 meatpacking workers, 1,989 food processing workers, and 2,304 farmworkers) have tested positive for Covid-19 and at least 107 workers (97 meatpacking workers, 8 food processing workers, and 2 farmworkers) have died.”
For slaughterhouse workers, going to work in an already dangerous industry has become potentially deadly.
When the meatpacking companies saw this crisis beginning to unfold, instead of moving to protect workers they sought liability waivers and bailouts from the federal government—over the objections of local public health authorities trying to protect their communities.
Trump was only too happy to oblige. He issued an executive order in late April declaring the meat supply a critical industry, rendering meaningless Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) guidance intended to protect workers, and helping meatpacking companies evade liability for the public health disaster they’ve created.
Unions fought back by suing OSHA to get Emergency Temporary Standards to save workers’ lives, but the courts wouldn’t intervene.
Democrats in the House are standing up for workers, but they’re also simultaneously caving in to corporate demands for a bailout. They passed a coronavirus relief bill, the HEROES Act, in May, that contains important protections for workers, including the Essential Workers Bill of Rights.
But the HEROES Act would also allow the federal government to pay slaughterhouses to stay open. And it would compensate companies for the costs of disposing of “surplus livestock and poultry” that hasn’t been able to be processed due to meatpacking plant closures.
Congress shouldn’t bail out Big Meat. It should work to replace Big Meat with better meat.
What consumers want—and what’s good for family farmers, slaughterhouse workers, animals, the environment and the climate—is meat that is regeneratively and humanely raised by farmers and ranchers who are paid fair prices, and handled and processed by workers who have safe union jobs, with family-sustaining wages, family and medical leave, paid vacations and retirement security.
There’s never been a better time to transform how meat is produced and processed in this country.
Passing the Small Packer Overtime and Holiday Fee Relief for COVID-19 Act is a good first step toward making this transformation a reality.