A doctors group is calling on the White House to drop its plan to force meat processing plants to remain open during the COVID-19 crisis. In a letter to the White House Coronavirus Task Force, doctors with the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine pointed out that meat processing plants are hotbeds for coronavirus and that reopening them would be a deadly mistake.
Coronavirus outbreaks have been reported in at least 80 U.S. meat processing plants in 26 states. More than 4,400 workers have tested positive for COVID-19, while at least 18 workers have died. In South Dakota, more than 1,000 of the state’s 2,212 COVID-19 cases have been tied to a single Smithfield Foods plant in Sioux Falls.
“Processing plants are crowded facilities, where sanitation is a challenge in the best of times and viruses are easily transmitted,” wrote Physicians Committee president Neal Barnard, MD, in the letter to the task force. Workers in these facilities have reported a lack of protective gear, lack of social distancing, inadequate sick leave policies, and inadequate testing.
“The White House’s plan would effectively force workers back into buildings that have become viral incubators, while waiving liability for the meat companies. In other words, this action provides a financial boost for corporate executives at the expense of workers’ lives,” adds Dr. Barnard. “The government’s first priority right now should be to protect the health of American workers and consumers, not line the pockets of Big Meat.”
In addition to endangering workers’ lives, the executive order would also bail out an industry that endangers the health of American consumers. Meat consumption raises the risk for many of the underlying medical conditions that can make COVID-19 infections more deadly. A recent study found that regular consumption of processed meat, red meat, or poultry increases the risk for cardiovascular disease. Research also links red meat, poultry, and fish to an increased risk for diabetes.
“We urge you to prioritize life and health over pork chops and bacon. Reopening meat processing facilities is ill-advised, and we ask you to cancel this order,” concludes the letter.