May 1, 2020

Reopening Meat Plants

“President Donald Trump took executive action Tuesday to order meat processing plants to stay open… The order uses the Defense Production Act to classify meat processing as critical infrastructure to try to prevent a shortage of chicken, pork and other meat on supermarket shelves.” AP News

See past issues

From the Left

The left worries that reopening the plants will harm employees and urges the government to require additional safety precautions.

“More than 3,000 meat processing workers across the country have tested positive for the virus in recent weeks, leading to additional spread in their communities, and more than 15 have died… [Employees] say companies are failing to enforce social distancing on the production line and only recently beginning to offer additional protective equipment, if they do so at all…  

“Many employees also say they don’t have paid sick leave, health benefits, or substantial savings, offering them little assurance should they get infected and incentivizing them to work while sick. ‘Workers are scared to go to work, but they face an inexcusable choice of going to work and exposing themselves to this pandemic or not going to work and losing their income’… The executive order leaves room for the agency to provide personal protective equipment to workers or issue additional regulations concerning worker safety — but it doesn’t explicitly provide any additional worker protections.”
Nicole Narea, Vox

Trump could have saved lives by issuing tough, specific, mandatory requirements for meat processors to slow down their lines, institute proper social distancing, frequently shut down plants for deep cleaning and repeatedly test all workers to isolate the infected. But no: That would have meant asking the nation to survive on fewer bacon cheeseburgers for a while. Bon appétit!”
Eugene Robinson, Washington Post

“Let’s be clear: U.S. consumers will not be forced to go vegan anytime soon. The threats to protein production are real, but meat companies have large reserves of product in cold storage that can temporarily fulfill consumer demand while the plants remain offline… if they force plant workers to operate in unsafe conditions so that huge volumes of low-cost meat can continue to flow to global consumers — we’ll be looking at future waves of plant shutdowns far more economically devastating than the cost of getting it right, right now.”
Amanda Little, Bloomberg

USDA’s food safety officials have also shown a lack of judgment by striving to speed food production in ways that run the risk of worsening the outbreak. Inexplicably, the agency in April ramped up a program granting regulatory waivers to speed poultry lines. Faster slaughter means workers must remain crowded together to process the higher volume of meat, undermining social distancing…

“USDA and FDA are obligated by law to protect their own inspectors’ health, and could rely on that authority as grounds to require the food industry to take steps to reduce COVID-19 risks so inspectors ensure the safety of our food while remaining safe themselves. At USDA in particular, such measures would have real clout, as the agency has authority to withdraw its inspectors if worker health is threatened, shutting down production. Canada’s food inspection agency used a similar authority in late March to require slaughter plants to respond to COVID-19.”
Sarah Sorscher, The Hill

“The meat industry reports more severe injuries to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) than industries like the sawmills sector and gas-well drilling. Per the OSHA data, approximately every other day between 2015 and 2018, a worker in the meat and poultry industry was either sent to the hospital or lost a body part. Additionally, the HRW reports that workers are often forced to work long hours without breaks and denied adequate access to sanitation… what if, instead of fighting to keep this gargantuan industry afloat, we took this opportunity to reevaluate our relationship with eating meat?
Amanda Arnold, The Cut

From the Right

The right supports the executive order in order to maintain the food supply but highlights the importance of protecting employees.

The right supports the executive order in order to maintain the food supply but highlights the importance of protecting employees.

“America needs a food supply, and the Trump order offers liability protections to companies that protect workers by following in good faith the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Labor Department safety and health guidance. This includes regularly disinfecting surfaces, break rooms and tools; staggering shifts; installing physical barriers between workers and spacing them at least six feet apart; screening workers before they enter plants; and advising them to wear at least cloth face masks. The Administration will also use the Defense Production Act to help meat suppliers procure protective supplies for workers. Americans don’t need a food shortage on top of the other human and economic carnage.”
Editorial Board, Wall Street Journal

“As you look at potentially empty meat refrigerators at your local grocery, just know there is not a meat shortage — there is a processing shortage. But there doesn’t need to be. Wasting supply via depopulating — aka wanton slaughtering — is absolutely not what needs to be happening in the middle of a global pandemic and record food demand. We’re already facing one crisis — we cannot let fear lead us to self-inflict another…

“At the same time, if workers in these processing environments are going to be asked to remain at work, they should be shown the same respect and given similar safety safeguards as those in the health care industry. They are heroes too by keeping our grocery stores stocked… Companies must ensure workers have the protective equipment necessary and must keep facilities and production lines sanitary. Employees should be monitored for symptoms and coronavirus tests available to immediately identify any employee who should not be on the production line. Simple steps like these, which many companies are implementing, will build confidence among consumers and processing plant workers that our food supply is clean and safe.”
Tyler Beaver, Daily Caller

“On the one hand, we shower praise on ‘essential workers’ in hospitals, grocery stores, sanitation and other occupations. On the other, we engage in acts of economic coercion with vulnerable populations who do some of the dirtiest, most difficult, and most dangerous work around. We build a fence along our southern border to keep out illegal immigrants but then seek to force those who are already here to do jobs American citizens simply will not do…

“The meat packers — like the doctors, nurses, and janitors who heal our sick and clean our hospitals — are essential workers all the time, not just during a crisis. We need these workers, and it is time we started treating them that way.”
Brent Orrell, American Enterprise Institute

“For the first time since the 1970s oil crisis, Americans on a mass scale may be exposed to rationing, shortages, and long lines for a resource they consider essential to their lives… Trump’s political survival instinct is kicking into gear at the right time. The sight of empty meat counters at supermarkets, alongside images of unslaughtered cattle or poultry falling under bulldozers, will be terrible for him. These images alone, cut into a well-narrated campaign ad, could be fatal to his reelection…

“Americans expect that America ought to be able to feed itself beef, pork, and chicken — that this is one area where the country was self-sufficient and where its supply chains were insulated from foreign threats. And yet it is under a nationalist president that the whole system may be breaking down. Trump better hope that the industry finds ways to adapt quickly, that its workers recover their health, and that the store shelves aren’t empty for long.”
Michael Brendan Dougherty, National Review

Get troll-free political news.

Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.