Small fines ‘incentivise’ meat companies to continue endangering employees

The world’s largest meat producer JBS Foods has been fined for failing to provide protection for staff in its Colorado facility in the US, where it has been reported that six workers from the plant died from Covid-19.

According to Bloomberg, the fine of $15,615 from the Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration, announced late Friday (September 11), came one day after US regulators issued a penalty of $13,494 for a similar infraction by Smithfield Foods.

Smithfield Foods was the first sanction against a meatpacker connected with a deadly Covid-19 outbreak.

Sao Paulo based JBS called the Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) citation “entirely without merit,” saying the federal agency was attempting to “impose a standard that did not exist in March” when the meat producer fought the pandemic “with no guidance”.

The JBS facility located in Greeley, Colorado, “is in full compliance” with all recommended guidance, and has been audited by health and government experts, according to JBS.

OSHA also said the fine against JBS was the maximum allowable. JBS has 15 business days to comply, request an informal conference, or contest the findings.

‘Immoral and unethical’

Six workers from the Greeley plant have died from Covid-19, according to the Food and Environment Reporting Network (FERN).

United Food and Commercial Workers Local 7, which represents more than 3,000 workers at the plant, put the death toll at seven in a statement, and said the small fine “incentivises the company to continue endangering its employees”.

“It is immoral and unethical, but in the current administration, unfortunately not illegal, that OSHA waited seven months to investigate the unsafe working conditions that led to this deadly outbreak,” said Kim Cordova, president of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 7.