Washington: At least 59,000 meatpacking workers in the US were infected with Covid-19, of which 269 of them lost their lives, according to a report published by a US House of Representatives panel earlier this week.
The US House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis used internal documents from some of the country’s biggest meatpacking companies for the report, which noted the infections and deaths at those companies were around three times higher than previous estimates, Xinhua news agency reported.
“Instead of addressing the clear indications that workers were contracting the coronavirus at alarming rates due to conditions in meatpacking facilities, meatpacking companies prioritized profits and production over worker safety, continuing to employ practices that led to crowded facilities in which the virus spread easily,” the panel report said.
The situation, it added, may be worse because the company documents generally don’t include Covid-19 cases confirmed by outside testing or self-reported by employees.
In a statement on Wednesday, the North American Meat Institute defended the industry’s response to the pandemic.
“Frontline meat and poultry workers were among the first impacted by the pandemic, but publicly available data confirm that comprehensive measures implemented in the sector since spring 2020, including extensive infection prevention and vaccination efforts, have successfully protected the sector’s dedicated and diverse workforce as they have continued feeding Americans and keeping our economy working,” said Julie Anna Potts, President and CEO of the trade association.
The House report is based on documents from JBS food processing company, Tyson Foods, Smithfield Foods, Cargill and National Beef.
Together they control more than 80 per cent of the US beef market and over 60 per cent of the pork market nationwide.