Why accountability could be the next big trend in the meat industry

A youngest The U.S. House subcommittee report detailed how the largest meatpackers have been working closely with the Trump administration to keep meat plants running at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic. The new subcommittee of the House of Representatives elects the Report on the Corona crisis confirms the concerns from many employee representatives and journalists calling for action in early 2020 to protect workers in meat processing. The report’s revelations are just the tip of the iceberg as to why stricter oversight and regulation is so necessary for the meat processing sector.

Key findings from the report include:

• The meat and poultry industry was aware of the risks that Covid-19 poses to workers.

• Meat company bogus claims of impending meat shortages and had set aside millions of pounds for warehousing and export contracts.

• Meat companies have recruited Trump’s USDA commissioners to oppose worker health protections, even recommendations by USDA employees.

• Meat companies worked closely with the USDA to force meatpackers to stay on the job despite deadly conditions and rising infection rates, including preventing state and local health officials from keeping facilities safe and infection-free.

• Trump’s executive order was operated and written at the behest of meat companies to isolate them from safety regulations and protect them from liability for safety issues, mass disease and deaths.

A previous US House Select Subcommittee in October 2021 report found that outbreaks in the meat plants caused huge virus clusters in those communities, with over 44% of workers testing positive for the virus and thousands of community members sickening or dying from the spread. Researchers estimated that another 5,000 Covid-19 deaths and 330,000 cases due to the rapid spread in butcher shops.

The North American Meat Institute, a leading meat industry trade group, said the report “distorts the truth” and “uses 20/20 hindsight and cherry-picking data to support a narrative that is utterly unrepresentative of the early days of an unprecedented national emergency.” . “

That meat and poultry industry Over $210 billion in annual sales and more than 500,000 employees. In spite of not necessary for human survivalmeat is heavily marketed to US consumers, including through the beef pick-up, and takes up a disproportionately high proportion of advertising. Meat and poultry typically make up and still make up 5-10% of grocery store sales an important driver of customer loyalty and quality perception for retailers. But the business model of conventional meat is an ecological and social catastrophe.

Just a few conglomerates Control up to 85% of beef, poultry and pork processing, including Tyson, JBS, Smithfield, Marfrig, Cargill and Seaboard. Billions of animals are slaughtered every day after living in overcrowded and inhumane pastures. Such conditions are ripe for the spread of virulent pathogens, the risk of future pandemics even as Millions of animals are cruelly culled. The meat industry generates millions of tons of carbon emissions linked to and responsible for climate change almost 60% of all greenhouse gases from food production. Enterprise consolidation has put downward pressure on wages and unionization since the 1970s. The meatpacking workforce is largely immigrant and black: over 42% of meat plant workers are Latino/Hispanic.

This business model has delivered huge gains for shareholders and a handful of executives. Pandemic earnings in the meat sector surged 500% while share buybacks and dividends topped $4 billion earlier this year. Tyson’s The latest earnings report revealed that over $500 million in price increases were passed through to consumers, with an additional gross profit rate of 25%. When you consider that retail gross margin is calculated as retail price minus expenses divided by retail price, it’s no wonder profits have meat shot up in addition to price increases.

Food justice and worker advocates want action to be taken to rein in the industry. According to Navina Khanna, executive director of the HEAL Food Alliance:

“This report confirms what workers and organizers have been saying for years. We are pleased to see that the House of Representatives is taking seriously these now-substantiated claims that the meatpacking industry and the USDA have worked together to put corporate profits ahead of the lives of working people and their families. Time and time again, the giant corporations that control the meatpacking industry take conscious measures to line their own pockets, with no regard for the lives of working people or their communities.

“This time it resulted in preventable diseases with thousands and hundreds of deaths. At the height of a deadly pandemic, they used coercion and lobbying to refuse to provide basic safety precautions, such as providing PPE and provisions for workers to call in sick without penalty if they or a family member were exposed to COVID-19. The corporations not only withdrew federal benefits from their employees and blocked health codes and state and local oversight to keep operations open, but literally wrote an executive order to shield themselves from any liability for worker deaths. They did so under the guise of a domestic food shortage. They now exported most of their products and made record profits.

“To date, the federal government has failed to protect the very workers it deems essential. Congress, OSHA, DOJ, DOL and USDA must do more to prioritize the safety of this predominantly Black, Hispanic and Asian workforce and to enforce our basic civil rights laws. We call on the Biden administration and Congress to act. Our elected officials must hold companies like Smithfield, Tyson and JBS accountable for the deaths of these workers and the damage to public safety, and prevent future government and corporate endorsements. We hope this investigation, conducted by the select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis, will be a wake-up call, prompting Congress to heed the call to create understandable and enforceable safeguards in the workplace, beginning with the passage of the Protection of the American Meatpacking Workers Actthat we so badly and desperately need.”

Unions representing meat-processing workers, such as the UFCW and RWDSU, and other worker-led organizations have also lobbied for The Protection of the American Meatpacking Workers Act. Key provisions of the bill include:

· Prevent the US Department of Agriculture from issuing line speed exemptions, except for meat and poultry plants show that an increase in line speed does not impair occupational safety.

· Strengthening of health and safety standards and communication.

· Extended safety inspections of facilities, taking into account line speeds, site temperatures and toilet breaks.

· Strengthening protections against retaliation over security concerns.

· New Pandemic Safety Reporting to require plants to report the number of sick employees.

· Reinstating country of origin labeling so consumers know their food comes from well-regulated domestic establishments

The bill also directs OSHA to create an industry-wide protocol to protect workers from repetitive strain injuries and a mandate to enforce safety conditions in plants. Meat packers consistently report the highest rates of injuries, including amputations, and more than a third of meat packers suffer from carpal tunnel syndrome along with other debilitating conditions.

According to Axel Fuentes, executive director of the Rural Community Workers Alliance, which organizes meat-processing workers in Missouri and the Midwest, “Weak existing laws have failed to protect workers in the meat-processing industry both before and during the COVID pandemic. Now we have the opportunity to improve these working conditions and prevent the deterioration of workers’ health by passing and implementing new laws and policies. I urge Congress to listen to workers’ needs and act quickly to pass this legislation.”

The House Select Committee report is the latest impetus for prioritizing workers and communities who have borne the externalities of the meat industry. Trade unions and employee representatives have quite reasonably called for greater legal and security protections. And while such actions will not solve all the disasters caused by conventional meat production, they are necessary and important steps toward food justice.

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