BySamuel Trilling, Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting |
Covid-19 could hamper the EPA’s ability to inform communities of health risks, according to a report released this month from the agency’s Office of Inspector General. Specifically, the inspector general’s office worried the EPA might not be able to inform residents who live near facilities with emissions that could cause cancer. In a separate report from late March, the office urged EPA to take “prompt action” to inform communities. As of the March report, the EPA and state agencies had not met with or reached out to residents around 16 of the 25 “high-priority” facilities, which are located primarily around cities in the South and Midwest. The June report detailed other concerns, including personnel shortages and cutbacks to routine inspections.
ByRachel Axon USA TODAY, Sky Chadde, Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting |
Since the executive order, COVID-19 cases tied to meatpacking plants have skyrocketed from fewer than 5,000 at the time to more than 25,000 as of this week, according to tracking from the Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting. Rather than protecting workers, a half dozen experts and advocates said, the federal government is failing them.
ByJoey Birrittier/For Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting |
It began in mid-March when the new coronavirus became part of ordinary American life with shortages of household products like hand sanitizer, toilet paper and paper towels. Now, as May has turned to June, scarcity – and the fear of it -- is all about the meat.
As of June 6, there have been at least 20,400 reported positive cases tied to meatpacking facilities in at least 216 plants in 33 states, and at least 74 reported worker deaths, according to a Midwest Center analysis.
ByRachel Axon, Kyle Bagenstose, USA TODAY, Sky Chadde, Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting |
Coronavirus outbreaks at U.S. meatpacking plants continue to soar as the beleaguered industry ramps up production, scales back plant closures and tries to return to normal in the weeks after President Donald Trump declared it an essential operation.
BySky Chadde, Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting, and Kyle Bagenstose, Veronica Martinez Jacobo and Rachel Axon, USA TODAY |
The meatpacking industry has evolved into a marvel of modern efficiency, producing 105 billion pounds annually of poultry, pork, beef and lamb destined for dinner tables across America and the world. That’s nearly double what it produced three decades ago.
But its evolution came at a cost. The same features that allow a steady churn of cheap meat also provide the perfect breeding ground for airborne diseases like the coronavirus: a cramped workplace, a culture of underreporting illnesses, and a cadre of rural, immigrant and undocumented workers who share transportation and close living quarters.
Federal aid meant to distribute food to the poor has gone to a bankrupt dairy, an event planning company, as well as two meat processors under federal investigation, a Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting analysis found.