North American Meat Institute president and CEO Julie Anna Potts says despite an Occupational and Safety Health Administration (OSHA) citation related to COVID-19, the first priority of U.S. meat companies is the safety of the men and women working in their facilities.
“While the meat and poultry industry remains vigilant working with many government agencies to stop the spread of COVID-19, OSHA engages in revisionism,” Potts said in a statement issued Friday.
On Thursday, OSHA cited Smithfield Foods for failing to protect employees from the coronavirus, making it the first major U.S. meatpacker to face a fine after outbreaks at slaughterhouses infected thousands of workers this spring and caused meat shortages.
The department’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) cited Smithfield Packaged Meats Corp in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, for “failing to provide a workplace free from recognized hazards that can cause death or serious harm,” according to a statement.
At least 1,294 Smithfield workers contracted coronavirus, and four employees died from the virus this spring, the statement said.
Potts, however, said meat packing companies took actions to protect workers.
“Notwithstanding inconsistent and sometimes tardy government advice, (‘don’t wear a mask/wear a mask’/April 26 OSHA guidance specific to the meat and poultry industry) when the pandemic hit in mid-March, meat and poultry processing companies quickly and diligently took steps to protect their workers,” she said. “Companies had to overcome challenges associated with limited personal protective equipment, they implemented screening systems to keep sick employees out of plants, developed COVID-19 plans with administrative and engineering controls to protect workers which included and but were not limited to the CDC/OSHA guidelines.
“Most importantly, as evidenced in trends in data collected by the Food and Environment Reporting Network and The New York Times, these many programs and controls once in place worked and continue to work. Positive cases of COVID-19 associated with meat and poultry companies are trending down compared with cases nationwide,” Potts said.