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Poultry plants in the US affected by Covid-19

Poultry plants in the United States have been battling against Covid-19 with thousands of workers falling ill from the virus and production of poultry meat down by 15%.

A report from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) looked at Covid-19 cases among US workers in 115 meat and poultry processing facilities across 19 states. It found that among approximately 130,000 workers at these facilities, there had been 4,913 confirmed cases of Covid-19 and 20 deaths.

Workers in processing facilities work in close proximity, heightening the risk of Covid-19 transmission. Photo: Fabian Brockotter
Workers in processing facilities work in close proximity, heightening the risk of Covid-19 transmission. Photo: Fabian Brockotter

Factors potentially affecting risk for infection include difficulties with workplace physical distancing and hygiene and crowded living and transportation conditions. The report called for improved physical distancing, hand hygiene, cleaning and disinfection and medical leave policies, as well as enhanced educational materials in languages spoken by workers.

The biggest challenges we are experiencing is inconsistencies among state and local health departments and government officials...” – Mike Brown NCC

Mike Brown, National Chicken Council president, said he welcomed the administration’s guidance to keep workers safe and food on shelves: “The biggest challenges we are experiencing is inconsistencies among state and local health departments and government officials who, in many circumstances, are developing their own criteria for maintaining operations with little or no consideration to previously-issued guidance which adds to the confusion and can lead to unnecessary shutdowns.”

Millions of animals – chickens, pigs and cattle – will be depopulated because of the closure of our processing facilities. The food supply chain is breaking,” – John Tyson

Last week, John Tyson, chairman of the board with Tyson Foods Inc, took out a full page advertisement in the New York Times, The Washington Post and The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette to express his concerns about the food supply chain: “Millions of animals – chickens, pigs and cattle – will be depopulated because of the closure of our processing facilities. The food supply chain is breaking,” he said. Mark Jordan, executive director of LEAP Market Analytics, said chicken production was currently 15% down while beef and pork had been affected even worse with production 30% lower.

Need to protect food supply and workers

Meanwhile, US President Donald Trump has signed an executive order delegating authority under the Defence Production Act (DPA) of 1950 to keep poultry and meat plants operating amid the Covid-19 pandemic. Under the legislation, the US Department of Agriculture is directed to ensure meat and poultry processors continue operations uninterrupted. The move was criticised by the US National Farmers Union President Rob Larew who said in a statement that while meat processing facilities were critical for farmers’ livelihoods there was huge concern for the health of meat plant workers. “These workers work in close quarters and often lack access to appropriate protective equipment or paid sick leave, making them among the most vulnerable to coronavirus… Their health and lives are not an acceptable trade-off for our meat supply, nor are these things mutually exclusive. We must find solutions that protect both.”

Covid-19 Up-date
What impact is the pandemic having on the global poultry sector and how are they dealing with it.