WASHINGTON — Earlier this week, US Senator Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) asked the inspector generals for the US Department of Agriculture and the US Department of Labor to investigate federal actions that might have contributed to the spread of COVID-19 in meat processing facilities.
In his letter to the two agencies, Bennet wanted government officials to investigate what steps the federal government did to prevent the spread of the virus inside the facilities.
“Specifically, I ask that you review steps the federal government took to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in these plants and how the President’s use of the Defense Production Act for meat processing facilities may have affected the health and wellbeing of workers,” the letter said.
In late April, President Trump issued an executive order to keep meat processing plants open to hold off possible shortages of beef, pork, chicken and other meats, calling them critical infrastructure.
Later, Bennet asked for a review of the federal response, including the use of voluntary health and safety standards at plants, the federal government’s communication with local authorities and the meat industry, where USDA inspectors went during the outbreak and whether USDA inspectors were provided proper personal protective equipment.
Bennet noted that his home state of Colorado has seen 447 cases and 10 deaths associated with meat processing plants, according to state health officials. The largest outbreak in Colorado was at the JBS USA beef production facility in Greeley.
In a recent report, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that at least 16,200 workers in meat and poultry processing plants in 23 states contracted COVID-19 by the end of May, with 86 people dying.