Tyson says ‘millions of pounds of meat will disappear’ as more than 1,180 workers catch COVID-19, slaughterhouses shutter, and workers kill and discard unsold chickens

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Workers wear protective masks and stand between plastic dividers at the company’s Camilla, Georgia poultry processing plant. Tyson has added the plastic dividers to create separation between workers because of the coronavirus outbreak. Associated Press
  • Tyson chairman John Tyson said “millions of pounds of meat will disappear” as meat processing plants are forced to close.
  • Tyson said closing slaughterhouses could lead to food shortages and force farmers to kill “millions of animals” that go unsold as the supply chain breaks down.
  • There have been more than 1,180 cases of COVID-19 among Tyson workers, with at least eight employees dying. While Tyson has changed its attendance policy, it still does not offer full paid sick leave.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Tyson chairman John Tyson said in an open letter that “millions of pounds of meat will disappear from the supply chain” as meat processing plants are forced to close.

More than 1,180 Tyson workers across the US have been sickened with COVID-19, according to Business Insider calculations, with at least eight employees dying. The meat industry giant does not offer paid sick leave.

Tyson ran an open letter from the chairman as a full-page ad in The Washington Post, the New York Times and the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette on Sunday, in which he discusses challenges linked to the coronavirus pandemic.

“In small communities around the country where we employ over 100,000 hard-working men and women, we’re being forced to shutter our doors,” Tyson writes. “This means one thing – the food supply chain is vulnerable.”

“As pork, beef and chicken plants are being forced to close, even for short periods of time, millions of pounds of meat will disappear from the supply chain,” Tyson continues. “As a result, there will be limited supply of our products available in grocery stores until we are able to reopen our facilities that are currently closed.”

More than 1,180 Tyson workers have been diagnosed with COVID-19

Tyson meat
Tyson employee. AP Photo/Charlie Riedel

At least four Tyson plants across the US have been forced to close as workers have caught the coronavirus, The Counter reports.

Business Insider’s analysis of local heath departments releases and news reports indicates that at least 1,185 workers from eight Tyson plants have contacted COVID-19. At least eight workers, working in Camilla, Georgia, Wallula, Washington, Columbus Junction, Iowa, and Dakota City, Nebraska have died.

A Tyson representative told Business Insider that the company is not sharing the specific number of cases or deaths, as it is an “ever-changing situation.”

In Tyson’s open letter, the chairman describes steps the company has taken to protect workers, including taking employees’ temperatures, requiring workers to wear facemasks, additional daily deep cleaning, and installing workstation dividers.

Tyson said the company has relaxed its attendance policy “to encourage workers to stay at home when they’re sick or feel uneasy about coming to work.” Tyson has also waived the waiting period to qualify for short-term disability, as well as the co-pay, co-insurance, and deductible costs for COVID-19 testing.

The company still does not offer fully paid sick leave, with short-term disability covering 60% of workers’ pay.

“What gave us faith in the past and gives me faith today is knowing that together, we will find the right path to take care of our team members and our communities, while providing safe and healthy food for you, our consumers,” Tyson wrote in the open letter.

The Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recently released specific guidance for meat and poultry processing facilities, which discuss distinctive risks workers face, such as long shifts in which they are in close contact with others.

The CDC and OSHA recommendations include requiring six feet of distance between workers, modifying incentive programs to make sure they do not punish workers for taking sick leave, and screening employees for symptoms. OSHA also urged employees to submit a complaint if they face illegal retaliation for raising concerns over safety and health conditions.

Iowa Farmer Hogs
Farmer Mike Paustian walks between pens of hogs on his farm in Walcott, Iowa, on November 19, 2014. REUTERS/Daniel Acker

Farmers have been forced to destroy goods such as milk, vegetables, and farm animals as the supply chain has broken down during the coronavirus pandemic.

“Farmers across the nation simply will not have anywhere to sell their livestock to be processed, when they could have fed the nation,” Tyson wrote. “Millions of animals – chickens, pigs and cattle – will be depopulated because of the closure of our processing facilities. The food supply chain is breaking.”

Depopulation means that farmers kill animals and bury, compost, or incinerate the bodies of livestock instead of sending them to meat processing plants where they would be turned into food.

Delmarva Poultry Industry Inc. announced that two million chickens on farms in Delaware and Maryland would have to be killed, because the processing plant lacked the necessary workers to process the birds. Earlier in April, the National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) said farmers were considering euthanizing pigs instead of selling them at a loss of almost $US37 per hog.


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