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A week before Trump's order protecting meat plants, industry sent draft language to feds

the North American Meat Institute
the U.S. Department of Agriculture
the White House
the National Employment Law Project’s
Public Citizen and American Oversight
the Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting
the Meat Institute
Fordham Law School
the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Labor
Smithfield Foods
Government Affairs
Agriculture Joby Young
the U.S. Department of Labor
the Kane County Health Department
the Chicago Tribune
WBEZ Chicago
the World Health Organization Collaborating Center on National & Global Health Law
the National Chicken Council
Government Accountability Report
the Chicken Council
Chicken Council’s
Tyson Foods
Big Ag

Donald Trump
Debbie Berkowitz
Adam Pulver
Julie Ann Potts
Sonny Perdue
James Brudney
Michael Skahill
Sioux Falls
Mindy Brashears
Lawrence Gostin
Tom Super

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the Smithfield St. Charles Kane County

Sioux Falls
South Dakota

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A week later, President Donald Trump signed an order with similar language, which caused confusion over whether local health authorities could close plants due to COVID-19 outbreaks.At the same time, the companies and their trade organizations tried to thwart local health departments’ orders to close plants by asking the USDA to intervene.“The industry ran to the White House as meat and poultry workers all across the country were getting sick and dying to say, ‘Let us stay open and have USDA intimidate health departments so they can’t close us down because our profits are more important than workers’ health and community’s health,’” said Debbie Berkowitz, who spent six years as chief of staff and senior policy adviser at OSHA and is director of the National Employment Law Project’s worker health and safety program.The emails were obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request by Public Citizen and American Oversight and shared with USA TODAY and the Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting. ProPublica, which also requested the emails from the USDA, first reported on the contents Monday afternoon.Adam Pulver, a Public Citizen attorney, said the “degree of collaboration” between Trump administration officials and industry in the emails is “astounding.” “As outbreaks continue to emerge in meatpacking plants, it is stunning to see the cavalier attitude officials took to the health and safety of workers in the early part of the pandemic,” he said.Julie Ann Potts, the president and CEO of the North American Meat Institute, said her group and many other trade organizations “routinely suggest legislative language.”“The Meat Institute was working with numerous federal agencies to help obtain PPE and testing for employees, to ensure meat and poultry could be diverted from foodservice channels to meet retail demand, and to serve as a liaison between the government and the industry on many other issues during the crisis,” she said in a statement.A White House spokesperson said to contact the USDA, which did not respond to a request for comment Monday.At least 39,000 positive COVID-19 cases have been tied to meatpacking plants, and at least 184 workers have died, according to tracking by the Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting.The draft executive order the Meat Institute gave the USDA in April includes language that would have directly ordered plants to “continue their operations to the fullest extent possible.”The order President Trump signed on April 28, did not include that language. That seems not to have happened here.”Officials at Smithfield Foods, among the largest U.S. meatpackers, sent frequent emails in May to USDA officials asking for help to reopen its plants.Smithfield had closed its Sioux Falls, South Dakota, plant on April 12 after more than 350 employees tested positive for COVID-19.Three weeks later, Smithfield’s Vice President of Government Affairs Michael Skahill asked the USDA for a direct order to reopen the Sioux Falls plant.

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