According to Reuters, Smithfield Foods has said workers cannot be socially distant in all areas of its plants, in response to U.S. senators who pressed meatpackers on coronavirus outbreaks in slaughterhouses.

Meatpackers are under mounting pressure to protect workers after more than 16,000 employees in 23 states were infected with COVID-19, and 86 workers died in circumstances related to the respiratory disease, according to U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data.

In June, Democratic Senators Elizabeth Warren and Cory Booker said Smithfield, Tyson Foods, JBS USA, and Cargill had put workers in harm’s way to maintain production.

Smithfield, in a June 30 response (pdf) made public on July 24, said it erected physical barriers and took other steps to protect workers in areas where social distancing is impossible. The company, owned by China’s WH Group, said slowing processing line speeds to increase space between employees would back up hogs on farms, leading to animal euthanizations and higher food prices.

Tyson told the senators it decreased the number of employees on production lines and created barriers or required face shields in areas where employees cannot be distanced.

IFT Weekly Newsletter

Rich in industry news and highlights, the Weekly Newsletter delivers the goods in to your inbox every Wednesday.

Subscribe for free