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Meatpacking Plant Investigation Launched by House

The United States House of Representatives Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis has opened an investigation into the COVID-19 outbreaks at meatpacking plants nationwide. Subcommittee Chairman Representative James Clyburn (D-SC) sent letters to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) as well as to Tyson Foods, Smithfield Foods, and JBS USA.  

"Public reports indicate that under the Trump Administration, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration failed to adequately carry out its responsibility for enforcing worker safety laws at meatpacking plants across the country, resulting in preventable infections and deaths,” Clyburn wrote OSHA in the statement.  “It is imperative that the previous Administration’s shortcomings are swiftly identified and rectified to save lives in the months before coronavirus vaccinations are available for all Americans.”

The Select Subcommittee’s investigation follows reports that nearly 54,000 workers at 569 meatpacking plants in the United States have tested positive for the coronavirus, and at least 270 have died.  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has acknowledged meatpacking plants as a source for “rapid transmission” of the coronavirus. 

In a statement to NPR, a Labor Department spokesperson noted that the investigation is "focused on the Trump administration's actions" and said that the department is "committed to working with the Committee."

Smithfield Foods, one of the companies being investigated, released a statement after the Subcommittee’s letter, expressing “It is unfortunate that there are inaccuracies and misinformation in the media on this issue and we look forward to providing the Subcommittee with correct information.” According to the company, “We have also implemented generous leave programs and established policies and protocols to ensure that Smithfield employees are free of a COVID-19 diagnosis and must not have any symptoms of COVID-19 to report to work. We have invested heavily in on-site testing and screening and have provided generous policies and paid leave to ensure employees stay at home when necessary.”

The Select Subcommittee is seeking documents from OSHA and each company related to coronavirus infections and deaths at meatpacking plants and the enforcement of worker protections by the Trump Administration.