An investigation into the pandemic finds that the meat industry acted as a common Scooby Doo villain


Probably the worst effects of Donald Trump’s presidency were that there was so much pervasive incompetence, corruption, and outright criminality that it’s almost impossible to keep track of everything. Damn day. Steve Bannon’s approach to disinformation, “flood the area with shit,” applies equally to misconduct in office. There was much more to it than any of the official government watchdogs, or the unofficial ones in the media, could follow. So much criminality, so little time and so little mental space for all that.

As a prime example, take this report published yesterday by the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis, which found the meatpacking industry to be as tough as thieves on Trump’s Department of Agriculture, where career personnel were sidelined so political appointees could do everything possible to keep meat plants running during the pandemic, worker safety will be doomed. At least 269 workers have died during the pandemic and more than 59,000 have been infected, all while the industry resisted any attempt to protect workers from the spread of infection.

Worse still, the report presents evidence that the industry promoted “flimsy, if not false” claims of an impending meat shortage to justify keeping plants running near capacity, no matter what, even though internal industry documents showed that management knew there was no such shortage. Ultimately, the report says, the industry enlisted the USDA and the White House in an effort to avoid oversight by state and local health authorities. donald trump’s Executive Order of April 2020 demanded that meat plants remain open to continue eating America with all the meat that the meat industry could butcher us.

Like Evan Hurst from Wonkette pointed out at the time Trump’s HEREBY DECLARE was a huge departure from the way Trump handled other aspects of the pandemic:

Trump has been reluctant to use the actual powers he has, such as invoking the Defense Production Law to make sure doctors have PPE and hospitals have ventilators, but he did call on it to make sure America’s delicious meats can make their full journey from the plant to their Big Macs that you pop into your mouth. How can the White House chef sear your steaks and smear them with tomato sauce if the meat plants are closed? Clearly an unbeatable situation.

My God, what a coincidence that Donald Trump took such substantive action to protect the meat industry, which was worried about being sued by workers forced to process animal carcasses indoors, with little protective equipment. The report details that the executive order was realland proposed and drafted by Tyson Foods attorneys, with contributions from other companies. (ProPublica published that story in the fall of 2020, although we missed it at the time). Tyson and industry lobbyists then shared the draft “with allied USDA officials who had previously helped them lobby or interfere with decision-making by other branches of federal and state government.”

In the days leading up to the issuance of President Trump’s Executive Order, meatpacking industry representatives and companies, particularly Smithfield and Tyson, were in constant communication with Trump appointees at USDA, the National Economic Council and the White House. […] The final order adopted the legal issues and directive laid out in Tyson’s draft, invoking the Defense Production Act to ensure meatpacking plants “continue to operate.”

This is how the Trump administration worked: Why bother regulating industries during a deadly pandemic when you can let industry tell you what it would like to do?

Not that he executive order it was a complete freebie; the report also notes that the day after President Meat Sweats ordered more meat, the White House demanded tribute, requesting in the email to several meat trade groups that companies “issue positive statements and social media about the president’s action on behalf of the industry, about the order itself, and how it will help ensure the food supply chain remains strong ”.

A member of the “North American Meat Institute” kindly sent not only a press release, but also a series of talking points that the White House could use to thank the industry for thanking Trump.

The report concludes that refrigeration companies

they knew the risk the coronavirus posed to their workers and they knew it was not a risk the country needed them to take. Nonetheless, they aggressively lobbied, successfully enlisting the USDA as a close collaborator in their efforts, to keep workers on the job in unsafe conditions, to ensure that state and local health authorities had no power to order otherwise, and to be protected against legal liability for damages that may result.

As the Washington Post (free link) reports, the committee reviewed a great deal of information, including

a review of 151,000 pages of documents, more than a dozen survey calls with industry union representatives, former Department of Agriculture and Occupational Safety and Health Administration officials, and state and local health authorities. The subcommittee also held a briefing with OSHA and USDA staff.

Some of the details are just astounding, like the meat industry lobbyist’s quote that adorns the report’s cover: “Now get rid of those pesky health departments!” Yes, someone said that in a real email, not in a Scooby Doo episode.

That quote is from page three, in which the committee explained that well into the pandemic, the industry was still refusing to take science-based measures to prevent workers from getting infected on the job.

For example, until May 22, 2020, long after the efficacy and necessity of coronavirus precautions such as testing, social distancing, and personal protective equipment had been widely recognized, a Koch Foods executive told told a meatpacking industry lobbyist that temperature control was “all we should be doing.” The lobbyist agreed, saying, “Now get rid of those pesky health departments!”

In a footnote, we find that it is from an email from Ashley Peterson, who was and is the “Senior Vice President of Scientific and Regulatory Affairs” of the “National Chicken Council”. After all, a temperature check found a worker who was sick, the worker went home and then tested positive, so clearly that was the only sick worker at that plant. (Well, no, Temperature controls alone were never enough to protect against infections at work)

dr Peterson made another appearance later that summer, in a National Chicken Council tweet explaining that worker safety is a job, although curiously in the linked video she doesn’t say anything about getting rid of those nosy kids in the health departments. Hey, maybe she was just joke other pretending to sound like a cartoon villain! We left a message for Dr. Peterson in the Chicken Lobby seeking comment, and will update when/if we hear from her.

In another amusing incident, we learned that Foster Farms enlisted the help of a Trump USDA appointee, Deputy Ag Secretary Mindy Brashears, to prevent a local health department from mandating worker protections. It turns out that the chicken company had hidden worker death counts in reports to the county as “resolved cases.”

According to officials with this health department, during a call with the Foster Farms and Brashears office, someone who worked for Foster Farms or the USDA callously referred to these death counts as “toe tag resolutions,” probably alluding to the finger tag often placed on a corpse in the morning.

Haha, it’s for laughs.

In addition, the report notes that meatpacking companies quite regularly “pressed the White House to make it clear that, despite concerns from state and local health departments, meatpacking companies should not have to address the risks of the coronavirus if it affects productivity. Because, gosh, you wouldn’t want a meat shortage or loss of profitability, would you? Lobbying was particularly intense in seeking workers’ sickness liability protection, an issue of such importance to then-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell That hears he fought tooth and nail to be included in the federal stimulus bills, even after Trump lost the 2020 election. Poor sad Mitch, it never happened.

In conclusion, this report makes it clear that the meat industry and the Trump administration did not give a damn about worker safety, because there was so much money to be made. Besides, he wasn’t like any important was dying, only low-income workers, many of them Latino, and as The spokesman for the Smithfield pork plant memorably said: “Living circumstances in certain cultures are different than your traditional American family,” so the workers probably got sick at home and then contaminated the company’s immaculate slaughterhouse with a filthy non-American virus.

At least the health of the workers made for a fun betting pool among Tyson plant managers, presumably.

Lake? We still can’t figure out all that shit. It’s infuriating, and no one is going to jail.

[Washington Post (free link) / Special subcommittee report]

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