If you want to understand why meat has become the focus of political fights about the effects of Covid-19, it helps to start with why the meat industry is so powerful.
I’ve always explained it this way: cattle are raised in every state, every state has two senators, every senator attracts hordes of lobbyists.
The meat industry effectively controls the Senate and House of Representatives by stopping a bill before it even reaches the floor. All legislation related to food and agriculture crosses the desks of the respective Agriculture Committees, so effort is targeted to build relationships, tailor strategic communications, and send influential campaign contributions to stay on the pulse of new developments. For bills that do reach the floor, swift action is taken.
Over the years, proposals to have meat processors become partially or fully responsible for the cost of USDA inspections, which are currently provided without cost for routine operation, are quickly shot down as “unwise and unnecessary,” without explanation or discussion. Ironically, industry also seeks to reduce the presence of USDA inspectors by seducing the agency into allowing their workers to complete the tasks on their tab– but more on that later.
Yesterday’s Politico: has this headline “As meatpacking plants reopen, workers terrified of coronavirus risk” [this may be behind a paywall]
The latest Agriculture Department figures show that U.S. meat production is returning to nearly last year’s capacity, accomplishing the White House’s goal of keeping the food supply steady during the pandemic…At least 44 meatpacking workers have died from the virus and more than 3,000 have tested positive, according to the United Food and Commercial Workers Union. About 30 plants have closed in the past two months, affecting more than 45,000 workers.
A spokesperson for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the agency responsible for worker safety, told POLITICO that it has received more than 4,400 Covid-19-related safety complaints, but has issued only a single citation related to the pandemic….An employee at a JBS plant in Greeley, Colo., where eight workers have died from the virus, told POLITICO that although the company has required social distancing in break rooms and other areas, workers remain standing shoulder to shoulder on assembly lines. The employee was granted anonymity out of concern about retribution from the company after speaking out.
Some other items about the meat situation:
- The New York Times has a lot to say about covid-19 cases among packinghouse workers
- Cattle producers reopen closed Fort Pierre processing plant
- Business Insider has a report on the sudden interest in small meat processors. Reuters does too. It’s about time—I hope this interest lasts.
- Politico reports on the rise in retail beef prices while prices for cattle are low
- The Food and Environment Reporting Network talks about the decline in meat production
- Is automation of meat slaughter coming? Wired writes about Denmark’s meat plants
- Jonathan Safran Foer writes in the Washington Post: “Meat is not essential. Why are we killing for it?