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Capitalism

May 28, 2020 - Investigate Midwest

Cheap chicken, beef came at a cost. How American meat plants bred coronavirus hot spots.

Cheap chicken, beef came at a cost. How American meat plants bred coronavirus hot spots.
Chicken plant workerFile Photo / © Photabulous!

'We may be essential, but we’re also expendable': Meatpackers face a choice between paying the bills and risking their lives.

Maria cut chicken thighs shoulder to shoulder with co-workers who coughed and ran fevers. The 33-year-old single mother from Mexico worked on a fast-paced line in one of America’s most dangerous industries.

Meatpacking plants have long faced criticism for sacrificing worker safety in the name of efficiency and cheap meat. Injuries are common: Severed fingers. Chemical exposure. Back sprains. But Maria, who asked to be identified only by her first name because of employment concerns, feared something worse while slicing a steady stream of carcasses in mid-April at the Mountaire Farms poultry facility in Siler City, North Carolina.

As the novel coronavirus invaded meatpacking plants across the nation, infecting dozens — then hundreds, then thousands — of workers, Maria said she feared for her life. Every time a colleague coughed, she said, she wondered if COVID-19 had found its way to Mountaire.

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