Tyson Pork Plant Closes After More Than 20% of Workers Test Positive for COVID-19
A Tyson Foods pork plant in Storm Lake, Iowa announced it would close Thursday after more than 20 percent of its workforce tested positive for the new coronavirus.
The closure comes about a month after President Donald Trump issued an executive order for meat processing plants to stay open despite virus outbreaks at several slaughterhouses. Those outbreaks led to the closure of around 20 plants in April, Reuters reported.
Tyson Foods announced the closure late Thursday, hours after the Iowa Department of Public Health (IDPH) had confirmed 555 coronavirus cases at the plant out of a workforce of 2,517, the Des Moines Register reported.
This is out of 2,517 tested, equalling 22% of the workforce at Tyson Pork so far.— The Storm Lake Times (@The Storm Lake Times)1590683488.0
"I honestly feel like the company has failed its employees," Storm Lake League of United Latin American Citizens of Iowa Vice President Mayra Lopez told the Des Moines Register. "With 555 cases confirmed, that seems pretty steep."
Lopez, who has friends and family among the plant's many minority workers, said that she had heard of employees waiting up to a week for coronavirus test results.
"By the time they get the results, it could be too late and they've passed it on to someone else," she said.
Tyson Foods said that the closure was due to a delay in testing results and the absence of employees due to quarantine. It said it would stop slaughtering and finish all processing over the next two days.
"Additional deep cleaning and sanitizing of the entire facility will be conducted before resuming operations later next week," the company said in a press release reported by the Des Moines Register.
The incident has added to concerns about employee safety in meatpacking plants forced to remain open despite the fact that crowded working conditions make social distancing difficult. Tyson said it implemented wide scale testing at the Storm Lake plant and required employees to wear masks, but the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW) said that meat companies and the Trump administration could do more to protect workers, Reuters reported. More than 3,000 U.S. meatpacking workers have tested positive for COVID-19 and 44 have died, the union said.
"Too many workers are being sent back into meatpacking plants without adequate protections in place, reigniting more outbreaks in the plants and our communities," Nick Nemec, a South Dakota farmer who is part of an advocacy group that works with UFCW, told Reuters.
Previously, coronavirus outbreaks had forced Tyson Foods to shutter plants in Waterloo, Columbus Junction, and Perry, Iowa, as well as in Dakota City, Nebraska; Logansport, Indiana; and Pasco, Washington, according to the Des Moines Register. However, most of those plants have since reopened, The Hill reported.
In April, Tyson Chairman John Tyson warned that "the food supply chain is breaking." The warning preceded Trump's executive order by two days.
However, a recent Food and Water Watch report has cast doubt on industry claims of shortages. It found that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) reported that cold storage of beef, pork, chicken and turkey was up 2.1 percent in April 2020 compared with April 2019. Further, meat exports have been on the rise in May.
At the same time, plants have persisted in switching to the New Swine Inspection System, which allows fewer inspectors and faster slaughter speeds. Plants that have switched to this system have seen increased coronavirus cases. One such plant in Guymon, Oklahoma reported 440 cases, the most in the state.
The USDA's warning of an impending meat shortage was false. "Claims of impending food shortages are hogwash — meat… https://t.co/1aCs8HtVNM— Food & Water Watch (@Food & Water Watch)1590616817.0
"The USDA itself is showing that industry claims of impending food shortages are hogwash — meat exports are actually increasing and cold storage stockpiles of meat are growing. Meanwhile, the numbers of workers in deregulated plants are proving for us the importance of meat slaughter line speed caps and federal meat inspection," senior government affairs representative for Food & Water Action Tony Corbo said in a statement. "USDA should take a long, hard look in the mirror and reverse course immediately by forcing industry to cap line speeds, follow federal inspection guidelines, mandate worker safety protocols, and keep plants closed as long as necessary to prevent the spread of COVID-19."
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EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Naomi Larsson
For centuries, the delicate silver dove has been a symbol of love and fidelity.
Biodiversity and Habitat Loss<p>Their near extinction is a symbol of the <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/global-biodiversity-outlook-targets-extinction-summit-new-york-pledge/a-54932895" target="_blank">biodiversity crisis</a> in the UK, largely driven by habitat destruction. Britain is now one of the countries with the most <a href="https://www.wwf.org.uk/future-of-UK-nature#:~:text=The%20UK%20is%20one%20of,than%20half%20are%20in%20decline" target="_blank">depleted nature</a> in the world according to the World Wildlife Fund. Half its plant and animal species are in decline and more than <a href="https://www.rspb.org.uk/about-the-rspb/about-us/media-centre/press-releases/let-nature-sing-wales/#:~:text=a%20natural%20tragedy.-,Over%2040%20million%20birds%20have%20vanished%20from%20UK%20skies%20in,unaware%20of%20the%20impending%20danger" target="_blank">40 million birds</a> have vanished in just half a century.</p><p>"[Turtle doves] are the canary in the [coal] mine because there are all these other species before it and after it," said Tree. "It's an umbrella for all the other species that are heading that way."</p><p>Turtle doves migrate south through Europe to sub-Saharan Africa between July and September, ending up in dry woodland and farmland areas of countries like Mali and Senegal for winter. </p><p>Droughts in West Africa and the Sahel region are believed to have contributed to the fall in turtle dove species recorded in northern Europe, with low rainfall reducing supplies of the seeds and insects the birds rely on for energy for the long journey home.</p>
Conservation and Farming<p><a href="https://www.operationturtledove.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Operation Turtle Dove,</a> a partnership project of charities including the Essex Wildlife trust, works with landowners and farmers to actively build turtle dove habitat.</p><p>Outten works with <a href="https://www.ebws.org.uk/birdsites/blue-house-farm-ewt-north-fambridge" target="_blank">Blue House Farm</a>, a 660-acre nature reserve in the UK county of Essex, where they have replicated weedy fallow plots. </p><p>"We work on it every year to make sure it's in the condition it needs to be with plants such as clovers and black medic," Outten said. "These plants are native to the landscape and produce the seed the birds feed on." </p><p>The birds eat a wide range of seeds from various plants that would have been abundant 50 or 100 years ago, added Guy Anderson, program manager for species recovery with The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB). </p><p>"But it's simply true that with the gradual process of <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/farming-without-pesticides-how-can-we-make-agriculture-greener/a-52216796" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">intensifying our agricultural production</a>, the availability of those seeds has dropped and dropped," said Anderson.</p><p>Part of the project includes supplementary feeding — providing sources of food in the form of seed or grain. Under the Countryside Stewardship Scheme in England, farmers can receive financial support to create a turtle dove habitat. </p><p>Though they haven't recorded an increase in doves across the sites in the four years of working on the project, Outten said they are seeing improvements in how landowners and farmers manage habitat for the birds. </p>
A Turtle Dove Haven<p>The 3,500-acre Knepp Estate in West Sussex is another project taking a different approach and one of the few places where turtle dove numbers are increasing.</p><p>Isabella Tree and her husband Charlie Burrell converted their intensively farmed land into a rewilding project almost 20 years ago. They have let the land return to nature.</p><p>Just one year after they'd finished <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/uks-most-talented-architects-are-not-human/a-35952128" target="_blank">rewilding</a> the southern part of their property, they heard turtle doves for the first time. It's now a breeding hotspot for the birds with an estimated 19 pairs. Knepp is also home to <a href="https://www.rewildingbritain.org.uk/rewilding/rewilding-projects/knepp-estate" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">2% of the UK's population</a> of nightingales. </p><p>Tree is critical of supplementary feeding schemes that, in her view, are short term. She questions the chances of turtle doves getting to feed on scattered seeds before other mammals eat them first.</p>
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