The coronavirus is unlikely to shut down meatpacking plants again now that producers have taken steps to stop the deadly bug from spreading, according to one top industry executive.
Those protective measures such as temperature checks and “surveillance tests” have helped beef and pork producer JBS USA prevent major COVID-19 outbreaks among its workers, CEO Andre Nogueira said.
“With all the protocol that was put in place … early in March and continued to evolve, I think that we’re in pretty good shape,” Nogueira said Monday at The Wall Street Journal’s Global Food Forum. “We do not control the disease outside of the plant, but I’m pretty confident that we’re not going to have the size of the disruption that we saw in April and May.”
JBS joined fellow meat-processing giants Smithfield Foods and Tyson Foods in closing several large plants this spring as thousands of industry workers contracted the coronavirus. The shutdowns had ripple effects across the meat supply chain, leading to shortages and higher prices at grocery stores.
The number of COVID-19 cases in JBS plants has been “pretty low” over the last two to three months, Nogueira said. The Brazilian-owned company also keeps track of infections in the areas surrounding its plants to guide the level of testing conducted among its workers, according to the Journal.
While he doubts that more large-scale closures will be necessary, Nogueira said JBS would close a plant if there’s “a perception that this helps to control the impact to the community.”
JBS has drawn fire for denying workers’ compensation benefits applications filed by the families of Colorado slaughterhouse workers who died of COVID-19, Reuters reported last month. The company, which uses a third-party administrator to review the cases, claimed the employees’ infections were not work-related, according to the news agency.
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