Dr Neal Barnard, president of the nonprofit Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, says that the next USDA Secretary must take a firm stance on meat.
More and more, it’s clear just how troubling the meat industry is. It endangers the lives of workers, produces products that cause heart disease and cancer, contributes to climate change, and keeps animals in deplorable conditions until they are killed. Now, a lawsuit is alleging that managers at a Tyson Foods plant in Iowa were betting on how many workers would contract COVID-19.
The conditions at meatpacking plants across the U.S. have ensured that infection rates would be high. Since the beginning of the pandemic, workers have reported a lack of protective gear, lack of social distancing, inadequate sick leave policies, and inadequate testing. As of Nov. 30, there have been nearly 50,000 infections and more than 250 deaths among U.S. meatpacking plant workers, according to the Food & Environment Reporting Network.
My organisation, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, has held several demonstrations across the U.S. calling for the closure of slaughterhouses. Our message: Workers shouldn’t be forced to put their lives at risk since meat is not essential and worsens heart disease and diabetes. This summer, we also joined the League of United Latin American Citizens in calling for a boycott of meat to protect workers’ safety and to promote public health.
But the federal government has made it hard to protect workers. An executive order to force meat processing plants to remain open read, in part, “It is important that processors of beef, pork, and poultry (‘meat and poultry’) in the food supply chain continue operating and fulfilling orders to ensure a continued supply of protein for Americans.”
This is simply not true. In fact, most Americans get more than enough protein, and replacing animal protein with plant protein from beans, nuts and seeds, vegetables, and grains can significantly boost health. A recent Harvard study found that those who ate the most plant protein were less likely to die of any cause, compared with people who ate the least. The researchers estimated that replacing just 5% of calories from animal protein with plant protein would decrease the risk of early death by 50%.
So we put up billboards in Iowa this summer urging the governor to shut down slaughterhouses and promote plant-based protein to help fight COVID-19 outbreaks at meatpacking plants. Billboards currently in Lincoln, Nebraska, ask the governor to switch to a safer food supply, like beans over beef.
Workers are also put at risk by the secretary of agriculture’s proposal in November to speed up production lines at chicken slaughterhouses. “With poultry line speeds already moving at a breathtaking pace, any effort to increase these speeds is a direct threat to worker safety,” the president of the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union told Bloomberg News.
It could also lead to pathogens sickening consumers. Last year, the Physicians Committee sued USDA for ignoring concerns over faecal contamination. Although USDA implements a “zero tolerance” policy for faecal contamination, this policy only applies to visible faecal contamination. Chicken products pass inspection as long as faeces are not visible to the naked eye.
The USDA announced that it would take no action to address these concerns. In response to our lawsuit, it conceded that bacteria commonly found in feces are routinely present on meat and chicken products.
The next USDA secretary must make it a priority to rebuke and better regulate the meat industry, which has been emboldened by the current administration to endanger public health.
Original source: https://www.desmoinesregister.com