Meat Processing Plants Close as Working Conditions Encourage Spread of Coronavirus
Meat processing plants across the U.S. and Canada are being forced to close as employees sicken with the new coronavirus, raising concerns both for the meat supply chain and worker safety at the often crowded plants.
One of the biggest closures to date was Sunday's indefinite shuttering of a Smithfield Foods plant in Sioux Falls, South Dakota that is responsible for around five percent of the U.S. daily pork supply, as The Associated Press reported. Its closure came after almost 300 of its 3,700 workers tested positive for the virus that causes COVID-19.
"The closure of this facility, combined with a growing list of other protein plants that have shuttered across our industry, is pushing our country perilously close to the edge in terms of our meat supply," Smithfield President and CEO Kenneth M. Sullivan said in a statement announcing the closure. "It is impossible to keep our grocery stores stocked if our plants are not running."
Other plants have shut their doors, at least temporarily, according to Reuters. They include:
- A JBS USA plant in Greeley, Colorado that is responsible for five percent of the U.S. daily beef slaughter, which said Monday it would close until April 24.
- A Tyson Foods hog slaughterhouse in Columbus Junction, Iowa that said Monday it would extend an April 6 closure for another week.
- A National Beef Packing Co. plant in Tama, Iowa that suspended cattle slaughtering until the week of April 20.
- An Olymel pork plant in Yamachiche, Quebec, that closed for two weeks starting March 29.
- A Maple Leaf Foods poultry plant in Brampton, Ontario that suspended production April 8.
Overall, hundreds of workers have fallen ill at plants in Colorado, South Dakota, Iowa, Pennsylvania, Mississippi and other locations, according to The Associated Press.
Meat processing workers are particularly vulnerable to infection because they stand very close to each other on assembly lines and share crowded locker rooms, leading some food safety and worker advocates to criticize companies and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) for not doing more earlier to prevent the spread of the virus.
"Social distancing is impossible in meatpacking plants," senior government affairs representative for Food & Water Action Tony Corbo said in a statement emailed to EcoWatch. "The plants are incubators for spreading COVID-19 and neither the plant owners nor the USDA has provided adequate personal protective equipment (PPE) for workers and inspectors to use while on the job. Workers and inspectors at these plants must be immediately tested for COVID-19 and then immediately provided PPE and hazardous duty pay. We must treat these people who are critical to ensuring the safety of our food supply like the frontline workers that they are."
Food & Water Action said the Smithfield plant should have been closed weeks ago. But, as Newsweek reported, it only closed following a letter from South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem and Sioux Falls Mayor Paul Ten Haken Saturday, asking the plant to close for 14 days. When it was sent, 238 of the states's 626 cases were among Smithfield employees.
🚨 The announcement from South Dakota officials makes the Sioux Falls Smithfield Foods meatpacking plant the #4 hots… https://t.co/0Ekj35oy44— Michael Geheren (@Michael Geheren)1586538479.0
"This is your moment to take swift action for your people, the community of Sioux Falls and the State of South Dakota," Noem and Ten Taken wrote.
Smithfield workers at the shuttered plant will receive full pay for the next 14 days.
It is hard to know how much plant closures will impact U.S. meat eaters. So far the decreased production has been offset by meat stored in freezers, Kansas State University agricultural economist Glynn Tonsor told The Associated Press.
"You could shut multiple plants down for a day or two, and we've got wiggle room to handle that," said Tonsor. "But if you took four or five of those big plants ... and they had to be down for two weeks, then you've got a game changer."
For animal welfare advocates, however, the spread of the new coronavirus at meat processing plants is just another symptom of the industry's disregard for both human and animal life.
"Even without the connection to coronavirus, animal flesh is one of the most cruelly obtained and unhealthy things you could consume," People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals wrote. "Eating meat has been conclusively linked to heart disease, cancer, obesity, and other health issues — and according to the United Nations, animal agriculture is responsible for nearly a fifth of human-induced greenhouse-gas emissions. But each person who goes vegan won't just help fight climate change — they'll also save the lives of nearly 200 animals a year, animals who, just like us, don't want to be killed. Don't wait for COVID-20 — forget freezer meat and go vegan now."
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1. Stay Informed<p>A first order of business in pet evacuation planning is to understand and be ready for the possible threats in your area. Visit <a href="https://www.ready.gov/be-informed" target="_blank">Ready.gov</a> to learn more about preparing for potential disasters such as floods, hurricanes, and wildfires. Then pay attention to related updates by tuning <a href="http://www.weather.gov/nwr/" target="_blank">NOAA Weather Radio</a> to your local emergency station or using the <a href="https://www.fema.gov/mobile-app" target="_blank">FEMA app</a> to get National Weather Service alerts.</p>
2. Ensure Your Pet is Easily Identifiable<p><span>Household pets, including indoor cats, should wear collars with ID tags that have your mobile phone number. </span><a href="https://www.avma.org/microchipping-animals-faq" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Microchipping</a><span> your pets will also improve your chances of reunion should you become separated. Be sure to add an emergency contact for friends or relatives outside your immediate area.</span></p><p>Additionally, use <a href="https://secure.aspca.org/take-action/order-your-pet-safety-pack" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">'animals inside' door/window stickers</a> to show rescue workers how many pets live there. (If you evacuate with your pets, quickly write "Evacuated" on the sticker so first responders don't waste time searching for them.)</p>
3. Make a Pet Evacuation Plan<p> "No family disaster plan is complete without including your pets and all of your animals," says veterinarian Heather Case in <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q9NRJkFKAm4" target="_blank">a video</a> produced by the American Veterinary Medical Association.</p><p>It's important to determine where to take your pet in the event of an emergency.</p><p>Red Cross shelters and many other emergency shelters allow only service animals. Ask your vet, local animal shelters, and emergency management officials for information on local and regional animal sheltering options.</p><p>For those with access to the rare shelter that allows pets, CDC offers <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/healthypets/emergencies/pets-in-evacuation-centers.html" target="_blank">tips on what to expect</a> there, including potential health risks and hygiene best practices.</p><p>Beyond that, talk with family or friends outside the evacuation area about potentially hosting you and/or your pet if you're comfortable doing so. Search for pet-friendly hotel or boarding options along key evacuation routes.</p><p>If you have exotic pets or a mix of large and small animals, you may need to identify multiple locations to shelter them.</p><p>For other household pets like hamsters, snakes, and fish, the SPCA recommends that if they normally live in a cage, they should be transported in that cage. If the enclosure is too big to transport, however, transfer them to a smaller container temporarily. (More on that <a href="https://www.spcai.org/take-action/emergency-preparedness/evacuation-how-to-be-pet-prepared" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">here</a>.)</p><p>For any pet, a key step is to establish who in your household will be the point person for gathering up pets and bringing their supplies. Keep in mind that you may not be home when disaster strikes, so come up with a Plan B. For example, you might form a buddy system with neighbors with pets, or coordinate with a trusted pet sitter.</p>
4. Prepare a Pet Evacuation Kit<p>Like the emergency preparedness kit you'd prepare for humans, assemble basic survival items for your pets in a sturdy, easy-to-grab container. Items should include:</p><ul><li>Water, food, and medicine to last a week or two;</li><li>Water, food bowls, and a can opener if packing wet food;</li><li>Litter supplies for cats (a shoebox lined with a plastic bag and litter may work);</li><li>Leashes, harnesses, or vehicle restraints if applicable;</li><li>A <a href="https://www.avma.org/resources/pet-owners/emergencycare/pet-first-aid-supplies-checklist" target="_blank">pet first aid kit</a>;</li><li>A sturdy carrier or crate for each cat or dog. In addition to easing transport, these may serve as your pet's most familiar or safe space in an unfamiliar environment;</li><li>A favorite toy and/or blanket;</li><li>If your pet is prone to anxiety or stress, the American Kennel Club suggests adding <a href="https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/home-living/create-emergency-evacuation-plan-dog/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">stress-relieving items</a> like an anxiety vest or calming sprays.</li></ul><p>In the not-unlikely event that you and your pet have to shelter in different places, your kit should also include:</p><ul><li>Detailed information including contact information for you, your vet, and other emergency contacts;</li><li>A list with phone numbers and addresses of potential destinations, including pet-friendly hotels and emergency boarding facilities near your planned evacuation routes, plus friends or relatives in other areas who might be willing to host you or your pet;</li><li>Medical information including vaccine records and a current rabies vaccination tag;</li><li>Feeding notes including portions and sizes in case you need to leave your pet in someone else's care;</li><li>A photo of you and your pet for identification purposes.</li></ul>
5. Be Ready to Evacuate at Any Time<p>It's always wise to be prepared, but stay especially vigilant in high-risk periods during fire or hurricane season. Practice evacuating at different times of day. Make sure your grab-and-go kit is up to date and in a convenient location, and keep leashes and carriers by the exit door. You might even stow a thick pillowcase under your bed for middle-of-the-night, dash-out emergencies when you don't have time to coax an anxious pet into a carrier. If forecasters warn of potential wildfire, a hurricane, or other dangerous conditions, bring outdoor pets inside so you can keep a close eye on them.</p><p>As with any emergency, the key is to be prepared. As the American Kennel Club points out, "If you panic, it will agitate your dog. Therefore, <a href="https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/home-living/create-emergency-evacuation-plan-dog/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">pet disaster preparedness</a> will not only reduce your anxiety but will help reduce your pet's anxiety too."</p>
Evacuating Horses and Other Farm Animals<p>The same basic principles apply for evacuating horses and most other livestock. Provide each with some form of identification. Ensure that adequate food, water, and medicine are available. And develop a clear plan on where to go and how to get there.</p><p>Sheltering and transporting farm animals requires careful coordination, from identifying potential shelter space at fairgrounds, racetracks, or pastures, to ensuring enough space is available in vehicles and trailers – not to mention handlers and drivers on hand to support the effort.</p><p>For most farm animals, the Red Cross advises that you consider precautionary evacuation when a threat seems imminent but evacuation orders haven't yet been announced. The American Veterinary Medical Association has <a href="https://www.avma.org/resources/pet-owners/emergencycare/large-animals-and-livestock-disasters" target="_blank">more information</a>.</p>
Bottom Line: If You Need to Evacuate, So Do Your Pets<p>As the Humane Society warns, pets left behind in a disaster can easily be injured, lost, or killed. Plan ahead to make sure you can safely evacuate your entire household – furry members included.</p>
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