Nearly 900 workers at Indiana meat plant test positive for coronavirus as food shortage fears grow

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Reported cases at meatpacking facilities surge amid concerns the food supply chain is 'breaking'

World | The Independent

The number of reported coronavirus cases at a Tyson Food plant in Indiana soared to nearly 900 this week as fears of a potential collapse in the meat and agriculture supply chains amid the coronavirus pandemic.

A reported 890 of the 2,200 workers employed at the Tyson Fresh Meats plant contracted Covid-19, according to local reports — nearly 700 more cases than what was originally reported by the Case County Health Department just last week.

The health department said last week that at least 47 cases in the county were connected to workers from the plant, located in Logansport, Indiana. The plant has since suspended production while allowing for additional cleaning services.

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President Donald Trump has mandated meat plants remain open through the pandemic via executive order, telling industry CEOs the facilities and their operations were part of the nation’s “critical infrastructure” and that he had no plans to restrict exports of pork to China.

The chairman of Tyson Food has now joined a chorus of food industry experts warning that supply chains could face severe disruptions due to outbreaks of the novel virus within their plants and facilities.

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“As pork, beef and chicken plants are being forced to close, even for short periods of time, millions of pounds of meat will disappear from the supply chain,” Mr Tyson wrote. “As a result, there will be limited supply of our products available in grocery stores until we are able to reopen our facilities that are currently closed.”

Mr Tyson also described the food supply chain as “breaking” as an unprecedented number of Americans seek emergency food relief at free pantries across the country.

Non profits have reported requiring significant help to continue filling food pantries for the millions of Americans who have shown up in recent weeks in need of groceries, with some pantries seeing thousands of families arrive at once.

Unions representing meatpacking workers have spoken out about what they describe as unsafe conditions during the outbreak of the novel virus.

Stuart Applebaum, president of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, reportedly said in a statement: “These are essential workers, they’re not sacrificial lambs.”

“People should know when they are going to work, they are working in a safe environment,” the president of the union, which represents between 10,000 and 15,000 workers in the south and midwest, told CNBC. “You have to prioritise the American people, not the product.”

Tyson has not yet indicated when the plant will reopen, saying in a statement on Wednesday: “Tyson Fresh Meats is working with the county health department on plans to re-open as quickly as possible.”

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