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Lawmaker report says meatpackers worked with Trump administration to change worker regulations

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The House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis released a report Thursday detailing how meatpacking companies worked with the Trump administration to change regulations so that their plants could stay open during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The meatpacking companies worked with the Agriculture Department to alter the worker protection regulations, allowing the companies to stay open despite health concerns and economic uncertainty, the report states.

Companies cited in the report included Tyson Foods, JBS USA, Smithfield Foods, Cargill and the National Beef Packing Company.

Rep. James Clyburn (S.C.), the No. 3 Democrat in the House and the chair of the subcommittee, said that the regulation changes were “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.”

“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,” Clyburn wrote. “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.”

Tyson’s Foods disputed the claims of the subcommittee that it exposed its workers to danger through opposition to some regulations.

“Throughout the pandemic our top priority has been and continues to be the health and safety of our team members,” Tyson said. “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.”

Smithfield shared a similar statement through its Vice President of Corporate Affairs Jim Monroe.

“We are immensely proud of the true dedication our team members showed to keep nutritious protein available as we took every appropriate measure to keep our workers safe,” Monroe told the Hill. “To date, we have invested more than $900 million to support worker safety, including paying workers to stay home, and have exceeded CDC and OSHA guidelines.”

Monroe added: “The meat production system is a modern wonder, but it is not one that can be re-directed at the flip of a switch. That is the challenge we faced as restaurants closed, consumption patterns changed and hogs backed-up on farms with nowhere to go. The concerns we expressed were very real and we are thankful that a food crisis was averted and that we are starting to return to normal.”

The subcommittee’s report was written in reference to 150,000 pages of documents collected from the meatpacking industry as well as survey calls conducted by subcommittee staff.

Staff spoke with meatpacking workers, union representatives, former Agriculture Department and Occupational Safety and Health Administration officials and state and local health authorities.

The Hill has reached out to Tyson Foods, JBS USA, Smithfield Foods, Cargill and the National Beef Packing Company for comment on the report.

Updated at 3:43 p.m.

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