The Trump Administration 'collaborated' with meat giants to evade COVID regulations and coverup deaths: report

The Trump Administration 'collaborated' with meat giants to evade COVID regulations and coverup deaths: report
President Donald J. Trump, joined by Vice President Mike Pence and members of the White House Coronavirus (COVID-19) Task Force, addresses his remarks Friday, April 24, 2020, in the James S. Brady White House Press Briefing Room of the White House. (Official White House Photo by Tia Dufour)

Former President Donald Trump's administration colluded with top-level meatpacking industry executives to exploit the COVID-19 pandemic in order to drive up prices and downplay the severity of the emergency, according to an exhaustive investigation released on Thursday by the United States House Select Oversight Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis.

Representative Jim Clyburn (D-South Carolina), the House Majority Whip and chairman of the Subcommittee, said in a statement that "the shameful conduct of corporate executives pursuing profit at any cost during a crisis and government officials eager to do their bidding regardless of resulting harm to the public must never be repeated."

The probe began last year and uncovered a spider web of corruption and flagrant disregard for human life involving American corporate titans and individuals in the highest ranks of the federal government.

Officials at the Department of Agriculture – including Secretary Sonny Purdue and Under Secretary for Food Safety Mindy Brashears – "collaborated" with corporate bigwigs to prioritize profits and production over the safety of employees and the public despite being fully aware of the hazards.

"Infections and deaths among workers for five of the largest meatpacking companies—Tyson Foods, Inc. (Tyson), JBS USA Holdings, Inc. (JBS), Smithfield Foods (Smithfield), Cargill, Inc. (Cargill), and National Beef Packing Company LLC (National Beef)—were significantly higher than previously estimated, with over 59,000 workers for these companies being infected with the coronavirus and at least 269 dying," the report states.

The powerful cadre also "engaged in a concerted effort with Trump Administration political officials to insulate themselves from coronavirus-related oversight," it explains.

In one instance, the chief executive officers of the conglomerates told Purdue on a phone call that their workers “should not be entitled to unemployment benefits if they are otherwise able to work through the pandemic” and cautioned against “creat[ing] an incentive, much less a path, for food industry workers to choose unemployment overproducing food.”

In that same conversation, they "implicitly acknowledged how dangerous plants were, asking for liability protection against lawsuits if workers were infected on the job."

There was also an aggressive campaign to skirt "pesky" local, state, and federal regulations that would have kept workers and their products safe and healthy.

"Companies lobbied the White House to make clear that—despite concerns by state and local health departments—meatpacking companies should not have to address coronavirus risks if it would impact productivity," the investigation revealed.

Alarmingly, the CEOs managed to successfully lobby Trump to draft and sign an executive order in April of 2020 that "would insulate meatpacking companies from oversight by state and local health departments and provide legal protection against lawsuits for worker illnesses and deaths."

The edict led to Trump "invoking the Defense Production Act to ensure meatpacking plants 'continue operations.'"

Shortly thereafter, records handed over to the Subcommittee show that "meatpacking industry representatives and companies—Smithfield and Tyson in particular—engaged in constant communications with Trump appointees at USDA, the National Economic Council, and the White House, including calls between Smithfield CEO Ken Sullivan and White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows; a joint call with Sullivan, Meadows, and Tyson CEO Noel White; a call between White and Vice President Pence’s Chief of Staff Marc Short; and a call from Meadows to White asking if White would be willing to meet with President Trump."

Trump subsequently "held a call with officers of the meatpacking companies who had lobbied for it on the morning the order was issued."

After Trump granted their wish, an effort was undertaken between the administration and the industry to "coordinate closely on messaging concerning the order and its effects, apparently hoping to generate positive press coverage" for the ex-commander in chief.

Worker fatalities, meanwhile, were swept under the rug.

In a particularly egregious example, an outbreak at Foster Farms in Livingston, California that infected "at least" 392 workers and killed eight in August of 2020 prompted the company to "intimidate" the Merced County Department of Public Health from shutting down the plant.

"Foster Farms attempts to obfuscate the death count by labeling fatalities as 'resolutions,'" investigators learned. "MCPH officials told the Select Subcommittee that an unidentified person on the call from either Foster Farms or USDA said these cases could be considered 'toe tag resolutions,' referring to the toe tag that is often put on a corpse at the morgue. MCPH said that Brashears asked this individual to 'stop' and said they would 'talk about this separately.'"

Operations at Foster Farms in Livingston were eventually temporarily suspended on August 31st.

Read the full report here.

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