WASHINGTON – Meat industry officials are pushing back at the latest report from the House of Representatives Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis regarding processors’ handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The report claimed that US meatpacking companies provided early drafts of the April 2020 executive order to the Trump Administration to keep meat processing plants open.
The Committee’s report also alleged that political appointees at the USDA collaborated with large meatpacking companies to keep employees working at meat facilities during the beginning of COVID-19.
“The shameful conduct of corporate executives pursuing profit at any cost during a crisis and government officials eager to do their bidding regardless of resulting harm to the public must never be repeated,” said Representative James Clyburn (D-SC), the chairman of the select subcommittee.
After the Committee released the information, the North American Meat Institute (NAMI) disputed the report calling it partisan and distorting the truth regarding the industry response to working conditions at the beginning of the pandemic.
“The House Select Committee has done the nation a disservice,” said Julie Anna Potts, president and chief executive officer of NAMI. “The Committee could have tried to learn what the industry did to stop the spread of COVID among meat and poultry workers, reducing positive cases associated with the industry while cases were surging across the country. Instead, the Committee uses 20/20 hindsight and cherry picks data to support a narrative that is completely unrepresentative of the early days of an unprecedented national emergency.”
Tyson Foods Inc., which was named in the report, released this statement to MEAT+POULTRY.
“Throughout the pandemic our top priority has been and continues to be the health and safety of our team members,” the company said. “Over the past two years, our company has been contacted by, received direction from, and collaborated with many different federal, state and local officials – including both the Trump and Biden Administrations – as we’ve navigated the challenges of the pandemic. This collaboration is crucial to ensuring the essential work of the US food supply chain and our continued efforts to keep team members safe.”
The National Chicken Council (NCC) also provided perspective from the poultry industry, especially regarding the first months of COVID-19.
“The chicken industry’s workers are heroes, just like the nation’s grocery store workers, firefighters, medical personnel and police, none of whom have the luxury of working from home,” said Mike Brown, president of the NCC. “It is important to remember just how uncertain and chaotic the early days of the pandemic were. The chicken industry, as with other critical industries, was on the front lines and absorbed blows as the first wave of COVID-19 swept across the country.
“To be clear, the effects of COVID-19 have been grievous, and no industry sector was spared. But although the challenge was immense, the people who make up the chicken industry showed enormous resiliency and innovative spirit in responding. Workplaces were adapted, and then adapted again as we learned more about the virus. The data show these efforts worked.”
Brown added that he regrets that the report failed to shine a light on the momentous efforts between industry and government, state and local, officials to keep employees safe and keep Americans fed.
The select subcommittee stated in its report that more than 59,000 workers from five of the largest meatpackers contracted COVID-19 with at least 269 people dying.