WASHINGTON – The House of Representatives Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis released new information that showed infections and deaths at meatpacking plants in the United States were three times higher than previously estimated.

The subcommittee found that 59,000 workers at the five largest meatpackers were infected with COVID-19. At least 269 people also died following contracting COVID-19, according to the report. 

The new data comes from recently obtained documents from JBS USA, Tyson Foods Inc., Smithfield Foods Inc., Cargill Meat Solutions Corp. and National Beef Packing Company LLC. 

A hearing was also held on Oct. 27 regarding this subject by the subcommittee. 

Internal information from the companies given to the subcommittee showed early concerns by workers to the pandemic were not addressed by some companies.

The report also alleged that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) leadership under the Trump Administration made a “political decision” to not issue regulatory standards for meatpacking companies that would take specific steps to protect workers.

Back in April 2020, President Donald Trump signed an executive order that labeled meatpacking companies critical infrastructure. 

Following the subcommittee report and hearing, the North American Meat Institute (NAMI) defended the industry’s response at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Julie Anna Potts, NAMI president and chief executive officer, stated: “Front-line meat and poultry workers were among the first impacted by the pandemic, but publicly available data confirm that comprehensive measures implemented in the sector since spring 2020, including extensive infection prevention and vaccination efforts, have successfully protected the sector’s dedicated and diverse workforce as they have continued feeding Americans and keeping our economy working.”

The meat association stated that public data by the Food Environmental Reporting Network and The New York Times show that the average new case rate in the meat sector was similar or lower than case rates in the general population since the fall of 2020. 

NAMI also cited research that showed the effectiveness of COVID-19 prevention measures facilities have implemented since spring 2020. A report by University of Nebraska Medical Center found that the combination of universal masking and physical barriers reduced cases significantly in 62% of meat facilities studied. Another analysis published in The Lancet in June 2020 found that distancing of 3 feet and use of facemasks each reduce transmission by about 80%, and use of eye protection reduces transmission by about 65%.