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  • Americans love sausage and bacon.

  • We consider it almost a civil right to have access

  • to abundant low-cost protein supplies.

  • Some of the same factors

  • that make the meat supply chain so efficient

  • and profitable are also helping fuel devastating outbreaks

  • of a novel coronavirus.

  • And according to the US' largest supplier,

  • that supply chain is breaking.

  • More meat processing plants in the Midwest are closing,

  • and that could impact our food supply.

  • There are growing concerns about food shortages.

  • So far, over 10,000 workers have been infected

  • or exposed to COVID-19, and at least 30 have died.

  • Our members are getting sick, and they're dying.

  • Worker safety and health

  • in this pandemic is really in crisis.

  • A lot of us were getting scared,

  • knowing that if we didn't show up for work,

  • we might not have a job.

  • An executive order signed by President Trump

  • declares meat processing plants as critical infrastructure.

  • If the administration wants to protect the food chain,

  • what they really need to do is to protect the health,

  • the safety of the workers in that industry.

  • If American consumers are to continue

  • to enjoy cheap and plentiful meat,

  • processing companies will have to navigate a fragile balance

  • of safety and supply.

  • Before we talk about what's happening

  • inside these processing plants,

  • it's important to understand their place

  • in the supply chain for meat in the United States.

  • Farmers raise livestock

  • to a certain weight and size measurement

  • so that they can sell them to meat processors.

  • And at these processing plants,

  • factory workers will often kill the animal,

  • break it down into different cuts,

  • and package it to the end product.

  • That is then transportable for your local grocery store

  • and other food service areas like restaurants

  • or catering companies.

  • And it's the efficiency and scale of this meat production

  • in the United States that allow prices to be kept so low.

  • So when some processing centers had to slow down production,

  • and in a few cases shut down entirely,

  • All of a sudden, we have a big bottleneck

  • of animals with nowhere to go.

  • In some instances, we've seen farmers

  • that have had to start calling animals

  • because there's just nowhere to send their pigs.

  • We'll end up having to euthanize either baby pigs

  • or even market hogs on that end

  • 'cause there's just simply nowhere to go with them.

  • And that bottleneck in these processing centers

  • means that grocery stores

  • in some areas may see a reduced amount of supply.

  • At the same time, these stores are seeing an increase

  • in demand with restaurants closing

  • and people eating in more often.

  • It instills a lot of fear in consumers

  • and ultimately in voters to have that right

  • to affordable low-cost meat threatened.

  • But ramping production back up

  • in these processing plants

  • and ensuring safe conditions for workers is challenging

  • for the same reasons that normally make them so efficient,

  • their size and the speed at which they operate.

  • Let's start with their size.

  • What we've seen, the coronavirus pandemic,

  • is kind of highlight this industry concentration.

  • A handful of very, very large companies control the bulk

  • of Americans' meat supply.

  • So, you have Tyson, JBS, and Cargill

  • that account for about 2/3 of America's beef.

  • And the large bulk of it is produced in a few dozen plants.

  • From the late '60s until now, we've seen about a 70% decline

  • in just the number of slaughterhouses that exist.

  • This industry consolidation has meant

  • that while there are fewer plants,

  • each plant processes far more meat than ever before.

  • And even a single plant shutdown can have an impact

  • on the overall supply.

  • When just one Smithfield plant in South Dakota shut down,

  • it reduced pork supply in the country by four to 5%.

  • The other side of their size

  • is just how many people work in these plants.

  • Some of these plants are very large.

  • There's thousands of employees.

  • It's just the nature of this sort of work.

  • A lot of industries obviously rely on automation.

  • And in pork and beef slaughterhouses,

  • it's not really like that.

  • You still have a lot of hands-on labor.

  • It can be up to 2,000 workers on a shift.

  • They crowd into break rooms.

  • They crowd into locker rooms.

  • They all punch-in around the same time

  • using the same clocks.

  • It's loud in these facilities,

  • so workers have to get really close together

  • to hear each other.

  • These plants have workers

  • working shoulder-to-shoulder

  • in every single department.

  • And that brings us to the speed

  • of these facilities.

  • By now you've probably noticed just how closely some

  • of these workers are to one another.

  • The reason for that is largely

  • to allow the production line to move faster.

  • The more hands along the line allows the belt

  • to move at a faster rate

  • and therefore deliver more meat at the end of the day.

  • And it's really physically demanding work,

  • and the pace of the line goes so fast

  • that workers rarely have time to go to the bathroom

  • because their job is to get the meat out.

  • In order to put space between the workers,

  • they have to slow down the line speeds.

  • In order to create a safer environment

  • and manage these multiple threats,

  • they have to slow down the line speeds.

  • With a potential for reduced line speeds

  • and large factories still slowly coming back online,

  • returning processing to full capacity

  • may be a difficult task for sometime.

  • And between growing pressure from farmers

  • who have nowhere to take their livestock

  • and executives warning of a looming supply shortage,

  • the government stepped in.

  • Facing fears of a nation wide meat shortage

  • President Trump signed an executive order today

  • to keep processing plants open, despite safety concerns.

  • We just worked with the meat processors.

  • They're thrilled, and that whole bottleneck is broken up.

  • But labor groups fear

  • that ramping plants up too quickly

  • can mean workers will continue to be put at risk.

  • Well, companies have been very clear

  • that they have been taking steps to protect workers.

  • So, they've done things like increase sanitation,

  • space out breaks.

  • They're offering PPE, protective gear like masks.

  • We remain committed to our employees during this time,

  • and we're implementing many changes

  • to assist our team members.

  • We have enhanced the cleaning and disinfection,

  • our frequently-touched objects and surfaces.

  • And we're continuing to stress the importance

  • of personal hygiene.

  • Measuring temperatures as they come through the door,

  • face coverings, staggered breaks, expanded room,

  • social distancing,

  • all of these are designed to help keep our workers safe.

  • Keeping our workers safe

  • is what will keep our plants running.

  • But currently companies face

  • no outside enforcement of these safety measures.

  • And the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,

  • instead of issuing very clear guidance

  • and recommendations on what employers need to do

  • to protect workers,

  • they watered it down so it says if possible, consider this,

  • in almost every sentence

  • so that it doesn't really give employers any mandates.

  • So, there's just a lot going on

  • that shields companies from responsibility,

  • pressures them to keep production up,

  • and disempowers workers.

  • You know, I am a meat eater.

  • I love bacon and breakfast sausage and all of it.

  • We have to, we bacon-loving consumers

  • have to adapt to the near-term reality

  • of some lower volumes of meat, higher costs of meat.

  • And we have to be willing as consumers to accept that.

  • We're not facing severe food shortages right now.

  • What could drive severe food shortages longterm

  • is if we're reckless,

  • if the companies and the management

  • of these companies is reckless about the health

  • and wellbeing of workers.

Americans love sausage and bacon.

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B1 US meat processing supply safety production line

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    joey joey posted on 2021/05/17
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