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USDA to investigate COVID-19 at meat processing plants

USDA to investigate COVID-19 at meat processing plants

The inspector general will identify if Trump administration actions contributed to the spread of the virus

By Diego Flammini
Staff Writer

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) will be studying actions from the Trump administration to understand if they contributed to the spread of COVID-19 in meat processing facilities.

Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) wrote to USDA Inspector General Phyllis Fong in August 2020 asking her to “review the federal government’s response to COVID-19 in meat processing plants and other agricultural processing facilities…”

Fong responded on March 3 stating her office will continue with the investigation.

The items Fong and her staff will look into include:

  • How the Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) spent $33 million in CARES Act funding,
  • FSIS’ protocols for when an FSIS establishment employee tested positive for COVID-19, and
  • What actions FSIS took following the Executive Order issued on April 28, 2020, that affected outbreaks at meat and poultry processing and other agricultural facilities.

On April 28, President Trump’s executive order under the Defense Production Act kept processing facilities open to ensure American’s didn’t go hungry during the pandemic.

Sen. Bennet is pleased with Inspector General Fong’s decision.

“Hardworking Americans who are serving on the front lines during this crisis deserve answers,” he said in a March 5 statement. “I’m glad the USDA Inspector General is making it a priority to get to the bottom of this.”

Almost 60,000 meatpacking workers have contracted the virus.

As of March 8, 57,526 meatpacking employees have tested positive for COVID-19, the Food & Environment Reporting Network says. Of that number, 248 have died. has contacted members of the U.S. ag industry for comment.

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