WASHINGTON — The nation’s largest meat packers reportedly lobbied the Trump administration in the early months of the coronavirus pandemic to keep their processing plants running despite being aware of the health risks to their employees. Congressional report released on Thursday.
The report, prepared by a select House Committee, outlines the scope of the meat industry’s impact on the administration’s response to the pandemic. Businesses have fueled “groundless” fears of an impending meat shortage to prevent plant closures. Tyson Foods’ legal department drafted an early version of an executive order in April 2020 that President Donald J. Trump declared processing plants “critical infrastructure.” And industry concerns have led the government to adjust federal recommendations on worker safety in meat packaging plants.
Congressman James E. Clyburn, South Carolina Democrat and Committee Chairman, said the findings underscored the interest of businesses in putting production ahead of worker health.
He said in a statement, “In a crisis situation, we must not repeat the shameful behavior of corporate executives who pursue profits at any cost, and the shameful behavior of public officials who try to do their own thing even if it causes harm to the people.”
Between March 1, 2020 and February 1, 2021, about 59,000 workers at meat packaging plants contracted the virus and 269 eventually died, the commission said in October.
Meat packaging companies and trade groups have withdrawn the results.
The report “distorts the truth” and “disregards the stringent and comprehensive measures the company has enacted to protect its employees and support critical infrastructure workers.” North American Meat Research Institute.
The report is based on a 151,000 page document. more than a dozen calls to meat packers, union representatives and former civil servants; Occupational Safety and Health Administration and Ministry of Agriculture staff briefing.
The slaughterhouses where people work closely became a major hotspot in the early weeks of the epidemic. Due to the plant closures, executives at Smithfield Foods and Tyson Foods issued public warnings in April 2020 that the country is at risk of running out of meat.
However, data shows that a record amount of pork was exported to China that month. In an email obtained by the House Committee, Smithfield’s CEO noted that there was “a lot of meat” for export, and a representative of the North American Meat Institute described the warning as “intentionally intimidating”.
The report also details how industry representatives are hiring senior Trump administration officials to keep employees away from home and easing federal guidelines to combat the coronavirus outbreak in meat packaging plants.
In an April call, for example, CEOs of meat companies asked Sonny Perdue, then Secretary of Agriculture, to tell their boss or vice president that “fear of COVID-19 is not a reason to leave the company.” Your job and you are not entitled to unemployment benefits if you do so.”
during White House press conference Four days later, Vice President Mike Pence urged food workers to “work, do work” and assured the administration that the administration is “working with every company to make sure your workplace is safe.”
The report also described Mindy M. Brashears, former Deputy Secretary for Food Safety at the Department of Agriculture, as a “fixer” for the meat packaging industry. According to the report, Brashears occasionally used personal phone numbers and emails to contact industry representatives, possibly in violation of record-keeping rules.
Neither Perdue nor Brashears immediately responded to requests for comment.
The House Committee also obtained documents showing that Smithfield management hired a senior Department of Agriculture official to propose changes to federal health recommendations for one of its facilities in South Dakota in April 2020.
compare with Original version obtained from The Washington PostThe Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s final guidelines included qualifiers such as “if possible” and “always when possible.”
Former CDC Director Dr. Robert R. Redfield told the commission that he added the qualification to the commission because it was “persuaded by industry concerns” that Mr. Perdue and his understanding of the impending meat shortage communicated.
“The concerns we expressed were very real,” Jim Monroe, Smithfield’s vice president of corporate affairs, said in a statement.
“Have we made every effort to share with government officials our view of the pandemic and how it is affecting the food production system? Of course,” said Mr. Monroe.
As state and local governments began to implement their own lockdown measures, the meat packaging industry sought a solution by proposing federal guidance that would trigger the Defense Production Act. Smithfield and Tyson phoned chiefs of staff and both Trump and Pence, the report said, and Trump’s executive order “adopted the subject matter and legal guidelines set forth in the Tyson draft,” the report said.
The executive order did not require the meat processing plants to continue operating, but reduced the company’s liability if it adheres to coronavirus guidelines.
Tyson spokeswoman Gary Mickelson said in a statement that “we have been contacted, directed, and collaborated with various federal, state and local officials, including the Trump and Biden administrations.” The challenge of the plague.”