The people who comprise the food supply chain, including farmers, truckers, grocery clerks and food delivery drivers, are among those essential workers who are on the front lines, doing their part to get food to consumers in the midst of the C19 pandemic.
They deserve our utmost appreciation. They also deserve safe working conditions.
As do another segment of food supply chain workers: the people who work in the fields and in processing plants.
In April, various media outlets from the L.A. Times to The Guardian and BBC News reported on the extreme risks these workers are exposed to daily. Agricultural workers in California work side-by-side in the fields and pack houses; are crammed together in buses that transport them, and live together in close quarters.
Meanwhile, the meat processing plants are shutting down operations around the U.S. and Canada as hundreds of workers are testing positive and deaths are rising.
Tyson Foods suspended operations at its Iowa City, Iowa plant on April 22 after more than 180 of its 2,800 workers tested positive. Four people already died from C19 at one of Tyson Foods’ poultry processing plants in Georgia.
JBS USA shut its Worthington, Minn. plant on April 20 after seven workers tested positive. The company’s Greeley, Colo. meatpacking plant reported four deaths earlier this month.
Cargill’s Fort Morgan, Colo. plant has at least 18 confirmed cases and one death. Meanwhile, on April 20, the High River, Alberta (Canada) plant was shut down after 484 cases of C19, linked to 360 plant workers, were reported, along with one death.
Smithfield Foods closed its Sioux Falls, South Dakota plant on April 15, after 644 cases were reported among workers and people who contracted it from the workers. The huge number of cases qualified the plant as the number one hotspot for C19 in the U.S.
The common thread among agricultural workers and those who work in meat processing plants goes beyond their employers’ disregard for safety, training and information during the current health crisis. These workers share other attributes: they are mostly Latino, African-American or refugees who are paid minimum wage or less, and are subjected to some of the worst working conditions of any job. It’s dirty, dangerous, and repetitious, and it takes a toll on the body.
For years, I have written about the global food supply chain, including tracking and tracing, visibility, and transparency. Technology enables us to pinpoint where a carton of strawberries were picked, who grew our coffee beans, or what temperature, humidity and shock our bottle of wine encountered on its journey.
Why is it that the essential workers, especially those in the fields and processing plants, are so often left out and discounted? What can employers and consumers do to change this? Or perhaps, what will it take for this to change?
If we are serious about transparency in the global food supply chain, then we need to look at all aspects, and all the essential workers.
photo credit: davispigeon-0