Abc News, Juju Chang discussed on BBC World Service

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Hundred of its three thousand seven hundred staff have fallen ill with the virus this worker speaking anonymously to juju Chang of ABC news says she quit her job at the plant last month because she was worried about the safety of her and her family we are working all day and then we are working the lines one feet apart two feet apart all I can say if you interest we have another client that you know I was thinking that it was not a safe place to work and especially to protect my family the seafood processing plant has now been linked to almost half of all the anti state of South Dakota coronavirus cases it's closure left Minnesota pig farmer Mike Patterson with an all mighty problem there's really nowhere nowhere to go with these animals other than you know other than the plants that are designed to take the worst case scenario we're looking at you know possibly having to euthanize many of the animals on our farm it was all the animals that would be about four hundred fifty thousand dollars from a financial standpoint of of value lost that means just killing them yourselves and the animals going to waste is being buried in the ground just being dumped is that right yes that's that's what we're looking at they would be you know made into dog food or things like that or composted and just being land applied just dug back into the land yeah yeah and how does the thought of that make you feel having to just kill and dump your pics it goes against everything I do is a farmer to see him go to waste is just very it's very tough for me on the pharmacy across the US have in fact already made the difficult decision to slaughter and dump tens of thousands of their animals that's because dozens of meat processing plants have also been told to close because of virus outbreaks among stuff the US health protection agency the centers for disease control and prevention says there have been almost five thousand cases among workers at one hundred and fifteen meat packing facilities across nineteen states that twenty of them have so far died unions claim that been twice that many cases and that more than thirty workers have died so here's the really big question why do so many meat processing plants appear to be such a dangerous incubators of the virus they're big industrial factories they employ thousands of individuals all working in close contact so when they were on the line they're usually almost literally shoulder to shoulder Torrey Smith is professor of epidemiology at Kent State University in Ohio another state with farms have been badly hits by the closures she's an expert on how diseases spread they're often protected in kind of gallons and things like that but in typical situations they won't be wearing masks sometimes they will be wearing gloves you have air flow in the factory because of course everything is chilled so you have a lot of air flow both from the mind can exiting through but also just from the differential temperatures in different areas of the building so you always had continuous air flow going through and so when you have people standing right next to each other working heavily because of course this is a difficult job breathing heavily you have chance for spreading the virus from just one infected individual too many that are in close proximity professor Tara Smith more from her as we go along American consumers have also been feeling the impact as the health crisis in meat processing plants deepens what is the John hamburger places give you a lot less being on a lot of love where's the ThinkPad Wendy's we seven Hamburg only modestly causing with some restaurants running out of beef burgers fans of the fast food chain Wendy's were quick to remind the company of this famous advertising slogan from the mid nineteen eighties shops to a feeling the pinch national shortages of pork and beef have pushed prices higher president trump has used his executive powers to try to get sheltered plants reopened by declaring meet processes to be part of America's critical infrastructure unions though claimed the pressure to reopen will put workers lives at risk not Lawrenson represents meat Packers at the United food and commercial workers International Union meat packing is always been a tough hazardous industry so it's going to be incumbent upon employers and the union to make sure that the safety standards that are issued which our guidance for actually fully implemented to make sure that these workers are safe when the government issued the defense production act and ordered those plants to stay open there was nothing in that which required that the personal protective equipment also be made available to these folks the good to the top of the line personal protective equipment like the N. ninety five respirator mask versus just a cloth mask so these are the things that we're going to push for we have to make happen it will take things like slowing down the pace of production it'll take things like re engineering plants but if we do those things vast majority of those jobs we can get proper social distancing employers isn't the worry for you though as a union you know you Morris saying we may have to find ways to do this work with fewer people is not heading in the direction of job cuts which is an unknown position for union to be and what we properly re engineer the plants will have to do job cuts we could just redesigned plants spread people out through different parts of the plant add different work mechanisms we could do this and still have the same number of people and probably get relatively close to the same amount of production the point we need to get to is safer jobs with the same number of workers at the plant meatpackers union representative mark Lawrenson so what do health experts think companies which run meat processing plants need to do now to make them safer places to work back to epidemiologist Tara Smith you know how one of the biggest things and as far as I know this hasn't really been implemented in most of these plants is slowing down the line if you slow down the line you can allow employees to have more separation between each other and that's a key thing that the plan seems to be reluctant to do from what I understand to put in measures that may better protecting employees but also may further reduce the supply of meat that they're putting out from each shift if anything the U. S. meat processing lines have been getting foster last year the department of agriculture a Polish maximum line speeds at peak processing plants and even after the pandemic struck in April this year a number of beef pork and poultry plants were given permission to further increase production the shortages spread since nineteen thirty six Smithfield a supplied America with good she made the right one but to all those years never faced a challenge like this this is corporate video makes clear companies like Smithfield except they face formidable challenges last month the team of inspectors from America's health watchdog the centers for disease control and prevention visited Smithfield's pork processing plant in South Dakota that report contained more than one hundred recommendations for improvement they include allowing more space between workers and installing no touch sinks and soap dispensers and also better communication with the largely immigrant workforce at the plant where around forty different languages spoken the report said the company it may need to slow lines to maintain social distancing but didn't directly order it we are Smithfield for an interview but no one was available the company did however send a statement at the core of our code nineteen response is an ongoing focus on employee.

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