France 24, May 24, 2020
From South Dakota to Brazil to Germany, meat processing workers around the world have been among the hardest hit by Covid-19. Will the pandemic force us to rethink our food system?
It started in South Dakota. On March 25, even as some of the biggest US cities were just going into lockdown to prevent the spread of Covid-19, a worker at a pork processing plant in the city of Sioux Falls (pop. 181,000) tested positive for the virus. Some at the plant suspected it wasn’t the first case.
Smithfield, the company operating the facility and largest pork producer in the world, quickly confirmed the March 25 case but said it would continue operations as usual. Three weeks later, the Sioux Falls plant had become the United States’ largest Covid-19 hotspot, with 644 of its 3,700 employees infected. More than half of all the cases in South Dakota could be traced back to the plant.
But it didn’t stop there. From Mississippi to Washington, Texas to Nebraska, one state after another reported outbreaks in beef, pork and poultry plants. Most had lockdown orders in place; a few, like South Dakota, did not, but it made little difference for meatpacking workers, who were considered “essential” and therefore still expected to show up for work.