Report: COVID Undercounted in Meat Plants

Oct. 28, 2021
The coronavirus in America’s meat plants caused nearly double the number of infections and triple the deaths previously estimated, according to a new congressional report.

The coronavirus in America’s meat processing plants caused nearly double the number of infections and triple the deaths previously estimated, according to a new congressional report.

The report from the U.S. House’s Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis estimates the total number of COVID infections among meat plant workers at 59,000 and deaths at 269. That is significantly higher than numbers previously reported by the Food & Environment Reporting Network.

The report, which drew on documents from America’s five largest meat processing companies, was scathing in its assessment of those companies. “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,” it said.

The report singled out certain plants with high infection rates, including: the JBS plant at Hyrum, Utah, where 54.1% of the workforce contracted COVID in 2020 or early 2021; the Tyson Foods plant in Amarillo, Texas, with an infection rate of 49.8%; and the National Beef plant in Tama, Iowa, with a 44.2% infection rate.

The companies involved responded to the Wall Street Journal that the raw numbers did not reflect where or under what circumstances workers contracted the virus, and that they had spent money on protective gear and barriers, and taken other measures, to alleviate the impact of the disease.

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