May 13, 2022 - COVID

Report: U.S. meatpackers pushed plants to stay open despite ample supply

Tyson sign
A Tyson Foods Inc. facility in Lexington, Nebraska, on April 24, 2020. Photo: Dan Brouillette/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Leaders of several large U.S. meatpacking companies pushed the narrative that meat was in short supply in the country back in April 2020, despite sitting on ample supply, according to a U.S. House committee report released Thursday.

Why it matters: That was one of the narratives used by industry leaders to pass an executive order that protected meatpackers from shutdowns and stricter oversight by local health departments, despite mass COVID-19 infections within factories.

Driving the news: The Democrat-controlled committee report details how Tyson and Smithfield claimed in 2020 that there would be "imminent meat shortages," if their plants weren't treated as critical infrastructure that needed to stay open.

  • An expert at the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy projected the meatpackers had plenty of supply, however, saying there was enough pork to supply U.S. grocery stores for 14 months back in 2020, according to the report.

Catch up fast: In April 2020, Tyson printed full-page ads in the New York Times and the Washington Post, claiming the food supply chain was breaking.

  • Tyson's legal department also drafted an executive order that was ultimately signed by former President Donald Trump that same month to protect meatpackers, the report says.
  • The executive order protected meatpackers from oversight by local health departments, as well as lawsuits for employee illness and deaths.

Zoom in: The report notes that industry leaders notified the U.S. Department of Agriculture about city health officials in Waterloo, Iowa, showing up unannounced at its plant in the area, arguing that it hindered workers' productivity and drew negative media attention.

  • To combat this, Tyson and Smithfield kept in close contact with their USDA allies to try and pass the proposed executive order, according to the report

Of note: Tyson's Waterloo plant was among several meat processing facilities that temporarily closed in 2020 due to COVID outbreaks.

Go deeper: Read the full report.

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