Vice claims meatpackers wrote COVID safety laws for themselves — but that’s not what the numbers show

May 16, 2022

By John Ransom

Saying that meatpackers circulated “baseless” fears that the US economy would suffer a shortage of meat if meatpacking plants shut down, Vice News accused the Trump administration of colluding with “Big AG” in order to keep those meatpacking plants open during the COVID crisis. 

“More than 86,000 meatpacking workers have contracted COVID and more than 400 have died since the beginning of the pandemic,” said Vice in accusing the administration and the meatpackers, like Tyson Foods, of colluding to hurt workers. 

Well then hurrah for Big Ag and the Trump administration. 

Because unlike today, where COVID has been in retreat and shortages of everything from turkeys to gasoline to tinfoil to baby formula have been on the march, one thing that people didn’t worry about during the Trump lockdowns, was food. 

And if people are tempted to think that’s a small accomplishment, just witness Shanghai, a city of 20 million, which lived on the edge of starvation for the last month because of COVID. 

Closer to home, witness this Walmart security device to protect a ribeye steak at a local Walmart in Florida, as food theft has been on the rise nationally since Biden became president. 

Then there’s Vice’s specific claim that COVID has killed meat plant workers.

The Economic Policy Institute (EPI) estimates that there are about 498,848 meat processing workers. At 400 deaths, that put the number of fatalities at 80.32 per 100,000 people, which is much lower than the national average of 311 per 100,000 people at a population of 330 million. 

Similarly, Vice claims that there have been 86,000 cases of COVID amongst meat packers, which comes out to 17.27 percent of workers, versus 154 million cases of COVID in the US which comes out to 47 percent of Americans.   

Even when accounting for the average age of meat packers at 42 years old according to EPI, there are 20 million Americans between 40 and 44 years of age, with 42,780 COVID deaths. 

That comes out to 210 deaths per 100,000 versus the meatpackers overall rate of 80.32. 

An then there is the point that all administrations consult industries about regulations they are about to impose on them. 

At least good administrations do.   

Where would the effort to get the COVID vaccine developed and manufactured be if the Trump administration had not consulted the biotech and pharmaceutical industries?  

Scientists at the NIH would likely still be applying for grants to study the COVID virus in bats in China. 

It’s not at all unusual for an administration to cooperate with an industry, even when it comes to protecting workers. 

Not to pick a side, but the numbers Vice is complaining about don’t show the reckless disregard for workers during the COVID crisis under Trump that really constitutes something irresponsible. 

As regrettable as the deaths are, it looks like meat plant workers were less likely to contract COVID as anyone else in their age group in America and less likely to die too. 

The fact that the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union is involved in the new reporting at Vice and other outlets about the imbroglio and the ACLU is singling out GOP-controlled Nebraska as a target with partisan invective tells you all you really need to know. 

“Companies put profits over workers’ lives as the pandemic hit their workers harder than any other industry in Nebraska, and agency officials let it happen,” said the ACLU according to Vice.

“Nebraskans who are immigrants and Nebraskans of color then bore the brunt of the tragic human cost of those decisions,” the ACLU added.    

But no one starved to death or had to swipe food because of inflation.

And no one will be surprised two years from now if a study shows that more than 400 people, mostly women, children, immigrants and people of color died because of food price inflation. 


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