Who knew that meatpacking plants would become the flash point for everything that’s wrong with our food system. An alarming 18% of packinghouse workers are infected with Covid-19—the ones known.
Public health authorities insisted that the plants be closed, and Food Dive lists the ones that did.
Because the plants closed, farmers have nowhere to send their ready-for-slaughter animals. But, says Civil Eats , don’t blame them for having to cull their animals. It’s not their fault; it’s the fault of the big companies that own the animals.
Farmers under contract don’t own the animals they are raising, and therefore cannot simply find a new market for them…The reality is that farmers don’t have to option sell the animals anywhere else. If the company tells them to euthanize an entire flock of the bird it owns on the spot, farmers have no choice but to comply—even as consumers clamber over empty shelves in the supermarkets, farmers are forced to depopulate.
What happens to the dead animals? There really are no good options.
Burning, burying, or composting up to 70,000 hog carcasses a day—or even grinding them into dust—could have serious consequences for our air and drinking water.
What happens to the workers, now forced by presidential order to go back to the plants?
In interviews with poultry workers in Georgia, Arkansas and Mississippi a similar pattern of alleged negligence, secrecy and mismanagement emerged at facilities operated by some of the largest food manufacturers in America…For more than a century, the meatpacking industry has been a symbol of how corporations are able to exploit workers in the name of efficiency. The Covid-19 outbreak has opened another chapter.
Trump, says The Guardian, is marching meatpacking workers off to their deaths.
With his executive order on Tuesday night, the president is in effect overruling safety-minded governors and mayors who have pressured numerous meat, pork and poultry plants into shutting temporarily after they had become hotspots that were spreading Covid-19 through their surrounding communities. With such a move, Trump is – let’s not mince words here – is showing contempt for both workers’ health and public health.
What is this really all about? Read this analysis in Dissent.
Why has the pandemic thrived in meat factories? It was a perfect storm caused by a whole raft of dysfunctionalities, from the rise of giant agribusiness companies to the hollowing out of the nation’s regulatory state, and the hyper-exploitation of a vulnerable, largely immigrant working class which staffs the lines. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) inspections have long been laughable at these plants. Fines, when leveled, tend to be a few thousand dollars, a pittance for billion-dollar corporations. The low-wage workers who staff the plants live in cramped quarters, sometimes with more than one family sharing the same dwelling—so if one person gets sick, the disease can spread quickly…By intervening so directly in the food-chain crisis, the Trump administration has thoroughly politicized the conditions under which food is produced.
I suppose we must thank the Covid-19 pandemic for so clearly exposing deep structural problems and inequities in our food system.
Will a new labor movement arise? See tomorrow’s post.
State Attorneys General have written a letter expressing anti-trust concerns about how consolidation in the meat industry has led to this crisis.
Given the concentrated market structure of the beef industry, it may be particularly susceptible to market manipulation, particularly during
times of food insecurity, such as the current COVID-19 crisis. During an economic downturn, such as that caused by the current pandemic, firms’ ability to harm American consumers through market manipulation and coordinated behavior exacts a greater toll, providing an additional reason for conducting a careful inquiry into this industry.