WASHINGTON D.C. (KAMR/KCIT) — The bipartisan Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis released a report Thursday after the committee investigated meatpacking plants and their operations during the COVID-19 pandemic. In the report, officials reference the JBS Plant located in Cactus specifically, along with Tyson Foods as a whole, an entity that has a plant in Potter County.
According to a news release from the subcommittee, the report details how meatpacking companies engaged with appointees from the Donald Trump Administration regarding keeping workers in plants with a high risk of COVID-19 transmission and “insulating facilities from state and local health department regulations.”
“The Select Subcommittee’s investigation has revealed that former President Trump’s political appointees at USDA collaborated with large meatpacking companies to lead an Administration-wide effort to force workers to remain on the job during the coronavirus crisis despite dangerous conditions, and even to prevent the imposition of commonsense mitigation measures,” U.S. Rep. James E. Clyburn- South Carolina, District 6 and the chairman of the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis, said in the release. “This coordinated campaign prioritized industry production over the health of workers and communities, and contributed to tens of thousands of workers becoming ill, hundreds of workers dying, and the virus spreading throughout surrounding areas. The shameful conduct of corporate executives pursuing profit at any cost during a crisis and government officials eager to do their bidding regardless of resulting harm to the public must never be repeated.”
According to the release, the subcommittee investigated COVID-19 outbreaks at Tyson, JBS and other companies beginning in February 2021. In information released last year, the subcommittee said in the report that during the first year of the pandemic, infections and deaths among workers at the five of the largest meatpacking companies, which includes Tyson and JBS, were “significantly higher than previously estimated, with over 59,000 workers for these companies being infected with the coronavirus and at least 269 dying.”
In the report, officials with the committee said that the meatpacking industry as a whole had notice of the risks that the COVID-19 pandemic posed to workers in the plants and the dangers of keeping the plants open for regular operations. In the report, officials reference an email from April 18, 2020, sent to a JBS executive and Texas governmental officials from a person identified as a physician at the Moore County Hospital regarding the situation at the JBS Cactus Plant.
“100% of all COVID-19 patients we have in the hospital are either direct employees or family member(s) of your employees,” the email reads. “We believe there is a major outbreak of COVID-19 infection in your Cactus facility… I understand JBS has been notified about this outbreak by several authorities but I am not sure this situation is being treated with the urgency it deserves. Your employees will get sick and may die if this factory continues to be open.”
In a statement provided to MyHighPlains.com regarding Tuesday’s report, JBS officials said:
“In 2020, as the world faced the challenge of navigating COVID-19, many lessons were learned and the health and safety of our team members guided all our actions and decisions. During that critical time, we did everything possible to ensure the safety of our people who kept our critical food supply chain running.”-JBS Representative
The report also states that the meatpacking companies’ claims of a potential shortage of protein if the plants were closed were “flimsy if not outright false.” The report said that companies, including Smithfield and Tyson, “warned that reduced operations and worker absenteeism would cause an imminent meat shortage, but these fears were baseless.”
The report also states that meatpacking companies worked with the United States’ Department of Agriculture, along with the White House, to attempt to “prevent state and local health departments from regulating coronavirus precautions in plants.” The report also said that companies stressed that they should not have to address COVID-19 risks if it would impact productivity at the plants.
Tyson also responded to MyHighPlains.com’s request for comment regarding Thursday’s report, with the company providing the following statement:
“Throughout the pandemic our top priority has been and continues to be the health and safety of our team members. Over the past two years, our company has been contacted by, received direction from, and collaborated with many different federal, state and local officials – including both the Trump and Biden Administrations – as we’ve navigated the challenges of the pandemic. This collaboration is crucial to ensuring the essential work of the U.S. food supply chain and our continued efforts to keep team members safe. For example, last year Tyson Foods was supported by the Biden Administration as we became one of the first fully vaccinated workforces in the U.S. Our efforts have also included working cooperatively and frequently with local health department officials in our plant communities.”-Tyson Foods Representative
In May 2020, the JBS Plant in Cactus, as well as the Tyson plant in Potter County, complied with local, state and federal efforts for mass COVID-19 testing. According to previous reports by MyHighPlains.com, the Texas National Guard and CDC helped conduct testing, which led to mass increases in COVID-19 cases at the time. The testing at Tyson in particular led to an increase of 734 COVID-19 cases in both Potter and Randall counties on May 15, according to previous reports.
Officials said that Thursday’s report is based on more than 151,000 pages of documents collected from meatpacking companies and interest groups, as well as interviews with various entities including authorities, meatpacking workers and former USDA officials.
MyHighPlains.com has reached out to the City of Amarillo’s Public Health Department, which was not available for comment. MyHighPlains.com has also reached out to Cargill for a statement but did not hear back as of Thursday night.