Inside The Numbers Of COVID-19’s Impact On US Meatpacking Workers

Nevin Barich

Nevin Barich

April 13, 2021 (press release) –

When the coronavirus pandemic came to full light in March 2020, the U.S. meatpacking sector was one of the first sectors to see alarming infection rates among its workers due to their close proximity to one another. As the nation begins to see light at the end of the tunnel due to the numerous vaccines currently available, a recent study by economists at the University of California, Davis, Michigan State University and the University of Arizona break down just how devastating the virus was to these workers.

According to the study, the presence of a meatpacking plant more than doubled U.S. counties’ COVID-19 infection rate. Counties that included beef, pork or poultry plants all saw higher COVID-19 rates than counties without meat processing.

Additionally, the economists found in a modeling analysis that beef, pork and poultry processors accounted for an estimated 334,000 COVID-19 cases, 18,000 deaths, and $11.2 billion in economic damage.

“The presence of a large beef packing facility increases per capita infection rates by 110%, relative to comparable counties without meatpacking plants. Large pork and chicken processing facilities increase transmission rates by 160% and 20%, respectively,” the authors wrote. Those increases apply to infection rates within 150 days of the first infection in the county. 

Some 525,000 people work in the U.S. meatpacking industry, the study said. 

“Our estimates suggest that previous reports significantly understate the impact of meatpacking facilities on COVID-19 case rates,” the authors wrote. “Yet, our estimated infection rates are likely conservative for a number of reasons,” including that it doesn’t account for cases recorded in a county outside the one the plant is in.

Sarah Little, spokeswoman for the North American Meat Institute (NAMI), panned the study, saying: “Economists are not public health professionals and it is inappropriate for them to make epidemiological conclusions, especially based on the limited data considered for this study.” A spokeswoman for Tyson referred questions to the NAMI.

Now it should be noted that since COVID-19 vaccines came onto the market, companies like Tyson Foods have taken the lead in getting their frontline workers vaccinated en masse. But if the numbers cited in this story are any indication, the damage is already done.

Nevin Barich is the Consumer Products Analyst for Industry Intelligence, which can help YOU better address your own industry challenges. To arm yourself with the latest market intelligence, contact Ask us about our interactive intelligence map and search bot on Microsoft Teams.

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