Market News & Headlines >> COVID-19 Cases at Meat Plants Far Above Previous Estimate

The number of COVID-19 cases and the number of deaths resulting from the virus among workers at leading U.S. meatpacking plants far exceeded a previous estimate, according to a report released on Wednesday by the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis.

For the report, the subcommittee surveyed major meatpackers Tyson Foods, JBS USA, Cargill, National Beef, and Smithfield Foods, which together control over 80% of the beef market and 60% of the pork market in the United States. It also examined documents from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

Worker cases of COVID-19 at those companies’ plants totaled 59,147 and deaths totaled 269, based on counts through January of this year, according to the report.

Those numbers are much higher than previous estimates by the Food and Environment Reporting Network (FERN), which had been used by government agencies and media throughout the pandemic, the subcommittee report said. FERN had counted 22,694 cases and 88 deaths among workers at the five companies as of Sept. 8, primarily drawing on data from news reports and public health agencies.

The new data comes from company calculations of worker cases primarily based on testing done within company facilities. The total number of coronavirus infections and deaths at these facilities may be even greater than these figures suggest, as the data provided to the Select Subcommittee in some instances excludes coronavirus cases confirmed by offsite testing or employee self-reported cases.