Top US meatpacking companies drafted an executive order issued by President Donald Trump in 2020 to keep meat plants running and persuade his administration to encourage workers to stay on task at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. did, according to a report released on Thursday by a US House panel.
A report from the House of Representatives Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus pandemic details the impact of the meat industry on Trump’s White House as it tried to keep production running even when employees fell ill.
More than 59,000 meatpacking workers at plants owned by the country’s top five meatpackers contracted COVID-19 in the first year of the pandemic and at least 269 died, according to the panel’s first report released in October.
Representative James Clyburn, chairman of the committee, said, “The shameful conduct of corporate executives chasing profit at any cost during a crisis and government officials eager to do their bidding despite harm to the public should never be repeated. “
The North American Meat Institute, the leading meat industry trade group, said the report “distorts the truth” and “uses 20/20 hindsight and cherry-picked data to support a narrative that is an unprecedented national emergency.” does not fully represent the early days of
The report, based on thousands of documents and interviews with workers, union officials and experts, found that in April 2020, meatpacking companies led by Tyson Foods and Smithfield Foods implemented the Defense Production Act (DPA) to keep meat plants open. while drafting an executive order. ,
The DPA, which was enacted in 1950, gives the President emergency powers to control the domestic economy.
The report found that the companies sent drafts to Department of Agriculture (USDA) officials and corresponded extensively with the White House, USDA and other administrative officials before the order was finalized and signed on April 28.
Industry executives argued at the time that the supply of domestic meat was threatened by the absence of workers.
The House report said those concerns were “unfounded”. USDA data showed that meatpackers owned 622 million pounds of frozen pork in March 2020 and that the top meatpackers’ pork exports increased by 370% in the first year of the pandemic.
Smithfield’s vice president of corporate affairs, Jim Monroe, said the company is proud of its pandemic response.
“Did we do everything possible to share our perspective on the pandemic with government officials and how it was affecting the food production system? Absolutely,” he said.
Tyson spokesman Gary Mickelson said the company’s top priority is worker health and safety and that it has cooperated with federal, state and local officials in its pandemic response in the interest of protecting workers.
In April 2020, meat industry officials also lobbied the USDA to encourage workers to report to the plant as absenteeism increased, resulting in a public statement from former Vice President Mike Pence to that effect, the report found. .
The report found that the industry worked closely with political appointee Mindy Brashears, the USDA’s Under Secretary of Food Safety, and corresponded with her via her personal email and cell phone, a potential violation of the Federal Records Act. .
Robert Redfield, the former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, also told the House committee that he added softer language, “if possible,” to CDC guidance on managing COVID-19 spread in meat plants, because they “should” Were observed “industry concerns” regarding the potential impact of the guidance.