May 14, 2022
House pandemic investigation finds meatpacking industry hyped baseless threats of meat shortage
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The meatpacking industry was one of the horror stories of the early pandemic period. With workers crowded together on assembly lines moving so fast that workers can’t even pause to cover a sneeze or cough, COVID-19 spread quickly. But Team Trump pressed to keep meatpacking plants open, with Donald Trump signing an executive order keeping plants open, supposedly to avert shortages of meat.
Even at the time, there were questions, especially since the warnings about shortages were accompanied by record pork exports to China. Now, the House select subcommittee investigating the pandemic response says that the meatpacking industry misled the public about the threat of a shortage and basically drafted Trump’s executive order keeping the plants open.
RELATED STORY: Lawsuit over meatpacking worker's COVID-19 death alleges truly grotesque abuses
“Meatpacking companies knew the risk posed by the coronavirus to their workers and knew it wasn’t a risk that the country needed them to take,” according to the committee’s report. “They nonetheless lobbied aggressively—successfully enlisting [the U.S. Agriculture Department] as a close collaborator in their efforts—to keep workers on the job in unsafe conditions, to ensure state and local health authorities were powerless to mandate otherwise, and to be protected against legal liability for the harms that would result.”
“The food supply chain is breaking,” the chair of Tyson’s board wrote in a full-page ad that appeared in multiple newspapers in April 2020. But “these fears were baseless,” according to the committee.
The “themes and statutory directive” of a Tyson draft made their way into Trump’s executive order, and “In the days leading up to President Trump’s issuance of the Executive Order, meatpacking industry representatives and companies—Smithfield and Tyson in particular—engaged in constant communications with Trump appointees at USDA, the National Economic Council, and the White House,” according to the committee report, offering a list of calls between the White House and industry executives.
At least 269 meatpacking workers died of COVID-19 in the first 11 months of the pandemic, at least 59,000 contracted the virus, and a 2021 study from a University of California, Davis researcher estimated 334,000 COVID-19 cases connected to the meatpacking industry, with per capita infection rates doubled in counties with large pork or beef processing plants and increased by 20% in counties with large chicken processing plants.
The meatpacking industry wasn’t worried, though. Executives knew they had backing from the Trump administration and that local health officials were walking on eggshells with them. Trump Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar blamed workers for getting sick, even as plant managers pressed workers to come to work no matter what. In one plant, managers even formed a betting pool on the health of their workers, a lawsuit alleges.
Meatpacking workers are a largely immigrant, underpaid, and vulnerable workforce in a dangerous industry. That industry treated them as disposable in the pandemic, with the active collusion of Donald Trump and his underlings, not because the nation’s meat supply was truly at risk but for greater profit.
Meat companies put profit above workers' lives following Trump's order to keep the industry open
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Congress demands answers on baby formula as lawmakers launch investigation into shortage with request for records and information from four of the largest manufacturers
'The national formula shortage poses a threat to the health and economic security of infants and families in communities across the country - particularly those with less income who have historically experienced health inequities, including food insecurity,' Democratic Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney of New York wrote in letters to Abbott Nutrition, Mead Johnson Nutrition, Nestle USA and Perrigo, first obtained by ABC News.
The Oversight committee is the investigative arm of Congress and broad authority to probe a variety of issues.
The panel is looking into the price gouging around infant formula and the steps the companies are taking to address the shortages.
Also, Maloney specificially asked Chris Calamari, chairman of Abbott Nutrition, for information about the recall of its formula after several babies were hospitalized and two died from a rare bacterial infection in some of its product.
Maloney wants answers to her questions, along with a briefing from the companies, by May 26.
The House Oversight Committee - led by Democratic Rep. Carolyn Maloney of New York (above) - is launching an investigation into the baby formula shortage and demanding records and information from four of the largest manufacturers
Congress is demanding records and information from four of the largest manufacturers of baby forumula amid shortage
Republicans, meanwhile, have sounded the alarm after discovering baby formula is being sent to border facilities while American mothers are facing empty shelves amid massive shortages.
And President Joe Biden's administration is struggling to respond, unable to reassure parents when there will be more formula on empty grocery store shelves and where they can turn to for help.
GOP Representative Kat Cammack tweeted Thursday two images, one showing full shelves of baby formula and food from a processing center at the southern border and another showing empty shelves where baby formula was supposed to be at an American grocery store.
'The first photo is from this morning at the Ursula Processing Center at the U.S. border. Shelves and pallets packed with baby formula,' Cammack wrote. 'The second is from a shelf right here at home. Formula is scarce.'
'This is what America last looks like,' she added.
Meanwhile, concerned parents are begging the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to reopen the nation's largest baby formula plant after the nationwide shortage has left their infants hungry and ill.
But the White House on Thursday defended the closure of the Abbott plant but officials couldn't say when it would reopen.
'The reason we're here is because the FDA took a step to ensure that babies were taking safe formula. There were babies who died from taking this formula so they were doing their jobs,' White House press secretary Jen Psaki said at her daily press briefing.
President Joe Biden got personally involved on Thursday when he met with executives from infant formula manufactures and retailers including Target, Walmart and Nestle's Gerber to discuss the issue.
Biden spoke with manufacturers Reckitt and Gerber about their efforts to increase production.
'Both companies stated that they are operating 24/7 with Gerber, increasing the amount of their infant formula available to consumers by approximately 50% in March and April. Reckitt is supplying more than 30% more product year to date,' the White House said in a readout of the president's meeting.
And his administration announced additional steps it was taking to boost the production of baby formula.
But officials were short on specifics. They couldn't say when the Abbott plant would reopen, they couldn't say when more baby formula would be for sale and Psaki couldn't offer any options when asked who parents can call for help.
Formula shortages have been compounded by supply chain snags and historic inflation, leaving about 40% of baby formula products out of stock nationwide, according to data firm Datasembly.
The White House defended the FDA's closure of the Abbott plant that resulted in a shortage of baby formula; 'There were babies who died from taking this formula so they were doing their jobs,' White House press secretary Jen Psaki said
GOP Representative Kat Cammack tweeted Thursday outrage over border centers being fully stocked with baby formula while American grocery stores are seeing massive shortages and empty shelves where formula should be
Empty shelves at a Target store in san Antonio, Texas