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Testing, changes in meatpacking plants crucial steps

“It’s a death march,” was the quote from Joe Enriques Henry of the League of United Latin American Citizens in a Minneapolis Star Tribune article on meatpacking plants.

The Sunday edition article claims that thousands of workers are still not being tested for COVID-19. If that claim is true, this is a problematic issue for not only meatpacking workers, but hog and beef farmers in southwest Minnesota.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, the chief risks to meatpackers come from being in prolonged close proximity to other workers. A thousand people might work a single eight-hour shift, standing shoulder to shoulder as carcasses move on hooks or conveyor belts.

We also know that COVID-19 cases are soaring in Minnesota counties connected to meatpacking operations. Nobles County leads these counties with 1,269 cases and Kandiyohi is now up to 316.

Two-thirds of the workers in the JBS plant located in Worthington have been tested, according to the article. But that was at the insistence of Gov. Tim Walz, after JBS showed reluctance. The Minnesota Health Department ended up testing about 1,400 of the plant’s 2,200 workers, coordinating with local public health authorities and Sanford Health. The Star Tribune says Minnesota taxpayers will foot the bill.

That’s not right. The meatpacking plants need to claim more responsibility toward the health of their workers. At least shoulder some of the testing costs. And it’s obvious that without changes inside the plants and testing, the coronavirus will continue to plague the nation’s meat supply chain.

And our local farmers will continue to face an uncertain future. And grocery store shoppers will see more empty meat shelves.

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