BySky Chadde, Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting, Kyle Bagenstose and Rachel Axon USA TODAY |
Even as thousands of their employees fell ill with COVID-19, meatpacking executives pressured federal regulators to help keep their plants open, according to a trove of emails obtained by USA TODAY and The Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting.
While nursing homes and prisons made up most rural hot spots in the spring, growing evidence now points to a different major “engine of spread” that has lurked beneath the radar of public awareness and official recognition: meat-processing.
Frustrated by the lack of response to their complaint of the “imminent danger” posed by COVID-19, three meatpacking workers at the Maid-Rite Specialty Foods plant outside of Scranton, Pennsylvania, took the unusual step Wednesday of filing a lawsuit against the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and Labor Secretary Eugene Scalia.
ByPramod Acharya, Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting |
More Americans have stayed home to cook during the COVID-19 pandemic, but they've paid a higher price for their home meals. While the cost of restaurant foods remained steady through the past few months, the price consumers paid for foods at grocery stores has steeply risen since March 2020.
As customers rushed to stock up on foods at the beginning of the pandemic, there was a sudden and sharp increase in demand for food, which led to higher prices. The dramatic reduction in restaurant traffic also resulted in increased demand for food from grocery stores, thus raising prices for food products, according to an April 2020 post by the USDA.
The Consumer Price Index – a measure of the average change in the prices paid by consumers for goods and services – rose 4.5 percent in June for food, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics . The index for food at home increased 5.6 percent in June, following a 4.8 percent increase in May, before seasonal adjustment.
While the price of poultry products – chicken and eggs – rose modestly, the cost of meat items – both beef and pork – rose sharply in June. The temporary closure of a number of meatpacking plants decreased the supplies of meat products, which eventually led to the steep rise in retail meat prices, according to the USDA report.
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.
ByCynthia Voelkl/Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting |
Back in March, the coronavirus started triggering infection hotspots in and around meatpacking plants, sickening and killing workers. As local public health authorities pushed giant meat conglomerates to close infected facilities, industry executives warned that doing so was “pushing our country perilously close to the edge in terms of our meat supply,” as Kenneth M. Sullivan, CEO of Smithfield, the world’s largest pork producer, declared in a April 12 press release.