Cargill, National Beef Targeted in House Meatpacking Covid Probe

  • Democrat seeks data on scale of infection at meat plants
  • National Beef’s case rate may be three to five times higher

Cargill Inc. and National Beef Packing Co. are targets of an investigation led by the House’s No. 3 Democrat into Covid-19 outbreaks at major meatpacking plants.

House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.), the chairman of the Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis, sent letters to the leaders of Cargill and National Beef Wednesday requesting information on employee infections and deaths, along with the number of those vaccinated.

“We are concerned that the scale of coronavirus infection in American meat processing plants may have been greater than previously believed,” he wrote.

Clyburn singled out National Beef, pointing to one study that said the company’s plants “had a coronavirus case rate three to five times higher than plants run by other large companies.”

Clyburn asked for all communications between the two companies and certain federal entities, including the Agriculture Department, about the pandemic. He’s also seeking documents exchanged by plant managers and higher-level executives discussing the impact of Covid-19 on the companies.

Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images
Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.), seen at a July hearing by the Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis, is seeking information from meatpacking companies about infections at their plants.

The corporations didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

The congressional investigation began in February, with Clyburn initially sending letters to Tyson Foods Inc., Smithfield Foods Inc., and JBS USA Holdings Inc. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration was also directed to submit related documents.

House Panel Investigating Meatpacking Plant Covid Outbreaks (2)

The ‘Big Four’

Brazilian-owned JBS, along with Tyson, Cargill, and National Beef — also majority-owned by a Brazilian processor — are known as the “Big Four” in the U.S. meatpacking industry. As the coronavirus pandemic began to ransack the country’s population last year, these corporations were at the center of controversy around critical Covid-19 outbreaks at their facilities.

With the delta variant spreading and unvaccinated Americans left at risk, “the danger presented by outbreaks in meatpacking facilities persists,” Clyburn wrote.

The Food and Environment Reporting Network, a nonprofit news organization, estimates at least 59,148 meatpacking workers tested positive for Covid-19, and 298 died, as of early September.

Clyburn cited estimates from other analysts that at least 1,394 Cargill workers and 1,435 National Beef workers were infected.

To contact the reporter on this story: Megan U. Boyanton in Washington at mboyanton@bgov.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Fawn Johnson at fjohnson@bloombergindustry.com; Loren Duggan at lduggan@bgov.com

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