Federal report cites rift in reported COVID-19 cases and deaths from meatpacking plants
Newly released findings from a U.S. House of Representatives subcommittee found that meatpacking plants, such as JBS Green Bay, were ill-equipped to respond to the pandemic
By John McCracken
A U.S. House of Representatives subcommittee released findings from an investigation into the connection between positive COVID-19 cases and deaths and meatpacking plants throughout the country.
The report found that more than 59,000 meatpacking workers were infected with the virus and a total of 269 workers died. Workers at five major meatpackers—BS, Tyson, Cargill, National Beef, and Smithfield (who collectively control 80% of the U.S. beef market and 60% of the pork market)—were exposed to highly contagious work environments during the onset of the pandemic.
The report outlines how the meatpacking industry was ill-equipped to respond to the pandemic, despite calls for increases in worker safety for decades. According to the report “government agencies charged with protecting the safety of workers failed to take steps to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.”
The investigation findings show a huge rift in previously reported cases and deaths—nearly triple the previous estimates from public agencies throughout the country.
Green Bay is home to a major JBS meatpacking plant. JBS USA Green Bay (1330 Lime Kiln Rd) employs over 1,200 people in the greater Green Bay area as well as supporting 1,100 meat producers per year.
According to an April 21, 2021 Green Bay Press-Gazette report, it is estimated that the facility is linked to at least 417 cases and four deaths, with two of those deaths being workers.
After the initial fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted the lives of meatpacking employees and food supply chains, JBS announced an investment of $50 million in community development projects in states across the country where the meatpacking giant has a footprint.
Of those funds, JBS said it would invest $1 million into the Green Bay community. A portion of these funds—$500,000 alongside a 25-acre donation assessed at $331,500—have been set aside to break ground on an affordable housing project and potential community space on the east side of Green Bay, near Joan Kroc Corps Community Center (1315 Lime Kiln Rd) and the Walmart Supercenter on Green Bay’s east side.
The remaining $168,500 has yet to be allocated to the Green Bay community.
In addition to donating money, JBS provided free meat products to residents who received the COVID-19 vaccine at one of its clinics this past summer. Newly vaccinated individuals were also entered into a raffle to win free meat for a year once they received their first vaccine.
JBS spokesperson Nikki Richardson said that the health and safety of JBS employees have always come first since the onset of the pandemic.
“We have taken aggressive action to keep the virus out of our facilities and adopted hundreds of safety measures that often outpaced federal guidance and industry standards,” Richardson said, “including requiring facemasks for 100% of our workforce in the early stages of the pandemic, voluntarily removing vulnerable populations while providing full pay, covering 100% of worker healthcare costs related to COVID-19 and conducting more than 80,000 surveillance tests to date.”
Richardson said the case rate reported to the U.S. House subcommittee included positive COVID-19 tests administered on-site and off-site, cases of written physician notes indicating a presumptive positive case, employee self-reporting and employee reporting on another person’s behalf.
“Our case rate was less than the national average as reported by the CDC,” Richardson said.
JBS Green Bay has a vaccination rate of more than 82%, and JBS USA has a vaccination rate of 75% overall.
JBS was fined almost $14,000 by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) for failure to furnish employees a place of employment free from “recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to his employees” related to COVID-19 outbreaks at the facility.
As of publication, JBS has not paid the $13,494 fine which was issued on October 9, 2020.
The meatpacking giant reported massive earnings by the end of 2020. JBS closed its financial year 2020 with an equivalent of $47 billion USD in net revenue, a 32% increase from the previous year.
John McCracken is the Editor of Green Bay City Pages. He can be reached via email at [email protected] or on Twitter @jmcjmc451