According to more than a dozen interviews with US and Canadian plant workers, union leaders and industry analysts, a lack of protective equipment and the nature of “elbow to elbow” work required in meat processing is highlighting risks for employees and limiting output.
At a Wayne Farms chicken processing plant in Alabama, workers recently had to pay the company 10 cents a day to buy masks to protect themselves from the new coronavirus, according to a meat inspector.
In Colorado, nearly a third of the workers at a JBS USA beef plant stayed home amid safety concerns for the last two weeks as a 30-year employee of the facility died following complications from the virus.
And since an Olymel pork plant in Quebec shut on 29 March, the number of workers who tested positive for the coronavirus quintupled to more than 50, according to their union. The facility and at least 10 others in North America have temporarily closed or reduced production in about the last two weeks because of the pandemic, disrupting food supply chains that have struggled to keep pace with surging demand at grocery stores, Reuters reports.