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Report: Trump officials helped meatpackers block pandemic worker protections

Report: Trump officials helped meatpackers block pandemic worker protections
Jim Clyburn, D-S.C., chair of House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis at the U.S. Capitol January 19, 2022. Clyburn says an investigation released Thursday shows Trump officials collaborated with the meat industry to block COVID-19 health protections for workers. File Photo by Bonnie Cash/UPI | License Photo

May 12 (UPI) -- U.S. Department of Agriculture officials appointed by former President Donald Trump helped meatpacking companies block COVID-19 protections for workers while U.S. meat companies pushed "baseless" meat shortage claims, according to the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus.

The report released Thursday concluded that meatpacking companies knew the risks, but still pushed the USDA to keep workers on the job in unsafe conditions while getting government help to be protected against any liability claims. At least 269 workers died during the first year of the pandemic.

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The report said "political appointees at USDA were regularly attempting to stifle regulatory attempts by state and local health authorities in order to force plants to stay open despite coronavirus risks."

"The Select Subcommittee's investigation has revealed that former President Trump's political appointees at USDA collaborated with large meatpacking companies to lead an Administration-wide effort to force workers to remain on the job during the coronavirus crisis despite dangerous conditions, and even to prevent the imposition of commonsense mitigation measures," Rep. James Clyburn, D-S.C., said in a statement.

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Clyburn said the coordinated lobbying campaign prioritized industry production over the health of workers and their communities.

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He said this "shameful" conduct of corporate executives and government officials eager to do their bidding regardless of harm to the public must never be repeated.

The report's conclusion said, "The results of this lobbying campaign were tragic: during the first year of the pandemic, workforces for Smithfield, Tyson, JBS, Cargill, and National Beef alone saw at least 59,000 worker infections, at least 269 worker deaths, and countless more cases and deaths among meatpacking-adjacent communities driven by plant outbreaks."

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Clyburn said in a statement that "Under Secretary of Food Safety Mindy Brashears was viewed as a go-to fixer in blocking attempts by other regulators to improve health and safety conditions in meatpacking plants."

The report said a meatpacking lobbyist told a Foster Farms executive in a Aug. 27, 2020, email that Brashears "hasn't lost a battle for us."

Career USDA officials told the House select subcommittee that Trump political officials shut career staffers out of interactions with state and local health departments regarding COVID-19 safety.

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And the Trump officials left no paper trail, instead using personal communications to communicate with meatpackers.

According to the House subcommittee report, meatpacking industry insiders articulated their goal in a May 22, 2020, email: "Now to get rid of those pesky health departments!"

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The Select Subcommittee said in a statement that its report is based on "more than 151,000 pages of documents collected from meatpacking companies and interest groups. During the investigation, Select Subcommittee staff conducted over a dozen survey calls with meatpacking workers, union representatives, former USDA and OSHA officials, and state and local health authorities; and held staff briefings with OSHA and with USDA. "

The Select Subcommittee said it also got information during transcribed interviews with a current Centers for Disease Control and Prevention official and the former CDC director.

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