Despite those efforts, the number of Tyson employees with the coronavirus has exploded from less than 1,600 a month ago to more than 7,000 today, according to a Washington Post analysis of news reports and public records.
What has happened at Tyson — and in the meat industry overall — shows how difficult it is to get the nation back to normal, even in essential fields such as food processing. Meat companies have spent hundreds of millions of dollars on measures such as protective gear, paid leave and ventilation systems since they were forced to shut dozens of plants that were among the top coronavirus hot spots outside urban areas.
But the industry has still experienced a surge in cases, and some companies say they are limited in just how much they can keep workers separated from one another. Only a portion of the labor force has gone back to work — some workers kept away on purpose — and the nation’s meat supply remains deeply strained as barbecue season gets underway.
A May report from CoBank, which specializes in serving rural America, warns that meat supplies in grocery stores could shrink as much as 35 percent, prices could spike 20 percent and the impact could become even “more acute later this year” as the knock-on effects on the U.S. agriculture supply chain are felt.
Grocery stores have been able to partially meet consumer demand thanks to meat already in the supply chain in March, when the pandemic broke out, but the report said those supplies were quickly being used up.
The prospect of long-term shortages is giving rise to an intensifying debate about whether the industry should reopen faster or whether safety should be prioritized, even at the cost of the nation’s food supply.
With an April 28 executive order encouraging meat plants to reopen, the Trump administration has said the food supply must be weighted equally with safety. Over the past month, more than half of the 30 meat processing plants that had shuttered because of the coronavirus have reopened.
“Our objective is two equal goals,” Vice President Pence said in a meeting with Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds (R) in early May. “Number one is the safety and health of the workforce in our meat processing plants, and, two, there’s strength in our food supply and getting people back to work.”
But others say that safety must be the paramount concern — and that the industry still has a long way to go before facilities are safe again.
“Absolutely, positively, no worker’s life is worth my getting a cheaper hamburger. No worker’s life is worth that,” former vice president Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, said at a Yahoo News virtual town hall last week.
Officials with the meat processors say they are doing whatever they can to protect workers, while trying to make sure the nation’s food supply remains sound.
“The safety of our team members is paramount, and we only reopen our facilities when we believe we can safely do…
Go to the news source: Meat industry trying to get back to normal, but coronavirus persists