You cannot slaughter animals without workers to do the work, and you cannot sell meat without inspectors.
We need to protect both workers and inspectors or we will see more plants shutter and our grocery stores empty.
Forcing workers and inspectors to work unprotected is not the answer.
According to the New York Times, there are about 800 federally inspected slaughterhouses in the United States, processing billions of pounds of meat for food stores each year. But a relatively small number of them account for the vast majority of production. In the cattle industry, a little more than 50 plants are responsible for as much as 98 percent of slaughtering and processing in the United States
More than a dozen beef, pork and chicken processing plants have closed or are running at greatly reduced speeds because of the pandemic. This past week, the number of cattle slaughtered dropped nearly 22 percent from the same period a year ago, while hog slaughter was down 6 percent, according to the Department of Agriculture. The decline is partly driven by the shutdown of restaurants and hotels, but plant closings have also caused a major disruption, leaving many ranchers with nowhere to send their animals.
According to Government Executive, as more federal food inspectors go home sick, the Agriculture Department is scrambling to reassign employees from shuttered facilities to those with new outbreaks and is instructing those with known exposure to the novel coronavirus to continue reporting to work.
The Food Safety Inspection Service, the USDA component that handles meat inspections, is still not providing employees with masks or other protective equipment, citing a national shortage. Instead, the agency told employees they could voluntarily bring their own “cloth face coverings” to slaughterhouses, processing plants and other facilities, and will reimburse them up to $50. Until earlier this month, employees were prohibited from wearing masks, multiple inspectors said, because it created fear in the workplace.