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May 02, 2020 - Vox

The moral cost of America's meat-supply obsession

The moral cost of America's meat-supply obsession
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Thousands of meat-plant workers are getting sick and millions of animals are being euthanized during the pandemic.

President Donald Trump signed an executive order this week declaring meat processing plants “critical infrastructure” that should stay open wherever possible. Invoking the Defense Production Act, Trump said that plant closures “threaten the continued functioning of the national meat and poultry supply chain.”

Yet keeping the plants open threatens workers’ lives. Facilities across the US have become hot spots for Covid-19 outbreaks: More than 3,000 workers have tested positive for the coronavirus, and at least 17 have died.

Some plants have been forced to close due to high rates of infection. At a Tyson plant in Waterloo, Iowa, more than 180 employees got sick. At a Smithfield plant in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, it was more than 640 workers.

But the leaders of these giant companies aren’t happy about shuttering plants, and they’re pushing back. Tyson’s chairman took out full-page ads in the New York Times and the Washington Post, claiming that “the food supply chain is breaking.” And Smithfield’s CEO said plant closures are “pushing our country perilously close to the edge in terms of our meat supply.”

To evaluate these claims and discuss what America’s obsession with the meat supply might be missing, I called up Leah Garcés, the president of Mercy for Animals. She suggested that while we’re all focused on the possibility of a meat shortage, what we should really reflect upon during this crisis is our profoundly immoral food system.

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