Industrialized animal agriculture workers 

As last month, aspects of the COVID-19 virus continued this month to raise concern about both the “depopulation” of animals within the factory farming industry. According to information reported in an email from and compiled by  Sentient Media  from  The New York Times , the  Guardian  and  Science , at least 20 million farmed and lab animals have been exterminated because of the pandemic.

The situation has also worsened for the treatment of workers within industrialized animal agriculture. Although the statistics vary depending upon how the demographics are categorized and measured, it is clear that Black, Hispanic, and Asian workers  comprise a large percentage of meat industry workers . It is also clear that food production workers are more likely to have household incomes 200% below the federal poverty level and, in particular, Black and Hispanic workers are also more likely to be uninsured compared to workers overall.  These findings show that many food production workers have limited ability to absorb income decreases , creating disincentives for them to miss work even if they feel ill or fear getting ill, and increasing the risk of them experiencing financial challenges if they do miss work.

Meat production rebounded this month after the factory farming industry lobbied the US administration to intervene and reverse plant closures mandated by local and state officials. Following the federal administration classifying these factories as “essential,”  COVID-19 cases have increased dramatically  at slaughter and packing plants. As of press time,  at least 32,049 workers have tested positive for Covid-19 and at least 109 workers have died

This creates a problem that ties the industry’s inhumane treatment of animals with social justice concerns for the humans involved, where economic instability and lack of insurance force workers into unsafe conditions. While  some plants have closed temporarily , worker safety has been ignored by management in others, and instances of plants attempting to block the release of COVID-19 testing results have angered public health officials. In a North Carolina chicken plant, for instance, Tyson hired a private company to take over testing and ceased relaying the results of the testing.  Only after the state public health director warned Tyson that its testing company could face prosecution did the health department receive the information . (Similar actions to downplay the pandemic’s death and infection rates of Indigenous peoples in Brazil have pressed the country’s indigenous federation’s executive director, Sônia Guajajara, to  assert that the administration’s institutional racism is leading to state-authorized genocide , “The government wants to hide the real numbers in order to carry out its plan to exterminate the indigenous peoples.”)

In addition to trying to simply stay alive in these dangerous conditions and to care for their families under economic conditions that already make this difficult, these workers also face ethnic scapegoating. Rather than confront the problem for workers in these plants, some industry spokespeople, politicians, administration officials  sought to blame the workers themselves . A Smithfield plant spokesperson cited the plant’s “large immigrant population,” in which “living circumstances in certain cultures are different than they are with your traditional American family”; Wisconsin Supreme Court Chief Justice Patience Roggensack  downplayed  a regional outbreak, declaring that it involved meatpacking workers and not “the regular folks” of the area; and  U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar faulted  the "home and social" aspects of workers'  lives rather than the conditions inside the facilities for the illness spikes. 

Coronavirus outbreaks in meat processing facilities are not limited to the USA. Germany has recorded its largest local COVID-19 outbreak since it started reopening its economy in early May; out of 1000 tested,  more than 600 employees at a slaughterhouse were positive for coronavirus . German officials are acting more responsibly, however. Local authorities  shut down the plant, and suspended all schools and daycare centers  in the region until June 29.

Meanwhile, as discussed last month, the United States has continued to export pork to China, showing that concerns over supply issues in the USA were overstated in order to reopen the plants because “ keeping the plants open would also protect their long-term investments in exporting to a country that is vital to their growth ."

Sociologist Cory Wrenn recently  took a scholarly look at the problem , challenging “Neo-colonial practices that serve to spread Western dietary practices, entrench developing regions in animal agriculture, and fan food insecurity.” Echoing the point that addressing the environmental crisis and climate change must involve dismantling white supremacy, the director of strategic partnerships for the Sierra Club, Hap Hopkins,  connects today’s environmental crises with racism  as “all a part of the same story…. Just as the settlers had to believe and tell stories to dehumanize the people they killed, plundered, and terrorized, today’s systems... can only work by dehumanizing people.”

And on a positive note, the coronavirus pandemic continues to push more consumers to buy meat alternatives— over half of those polled in the United States now want meat-free options —with  sales soaring 168.5% in the first week in June , and meatless alternatives are becoming more readily available.