Thursday, May 12, 2022

House panel says big meatpackers uses baseless claims of shortages to get federal green light early in pandemic

A Tyson Foods plant in Iowa (AP photo by Charlie Niebergall)
A House committee investigating the nation's response to the pandemic has found that leading meatpackers used “baseless” claims of shortages to persuade the Trump administration to let them "keep processing plants running, disregarding the coronavirus risks that eventually killed at least 269 workers," Taylor Telford of The Washington Post reports.

"In a report released Thursday, the committee alleges that Tyson Foods’s legal team prepared a draft with input from other companies that became the basis for an executive order to keep the plants open the Trump administration issued in April 2020, making it difficult for workers to stay home," Telford reports.

The report says, “Meatpacking companies knew the risk posed by the coronavirus to their workers and knew it wasn’t a risk that the country needed them to take. They nonetheless lobbied aggressively — successfully enlisting USDA as a close collaborator in their efforts — to keep workers on the job in unsafe conditions, to ensure state and local health authorities were powerless to mandate otherwise, and to be protected against legal liability for the harms that would result.”

The report from the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis is based on government documents, calls with former federal officials, state and local health officials and meatpacking workers' union representatives. The documents showed that “despite awareness of the high risks of coronavirus spread in their plants, meatpacking companies engaged in a concerted effort with Trump Administration political officials to insulate themselves from coronavirus-related oversight, to force workers to continue working in dangerous conditions, and to shield themselves from legal liability for any resulting worker illness or death,” the report says.

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