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The U.S. is facing meat shortages amid the coronavirus pandemic, a food boss has warned.

John H. Tyson is the chairman of meat giant Tyson Foods. Over the weekend, he took out a full-page ad in multiple major newspapers including The Washington Post to defend his company.

Meat workers and coronavirus

Tyson Foods has been under scrutiny after a number of its employees tested positive for COVID-19, forcing it to shut down its pork processing plant in Iowa. In total, The Counter says Tyson has shuttered at least four of its plants.

According to the Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting, there have been at least 4,135 positive reported cases linked to meatpacking facilities, covering 75 facilities in 25 states. In addition, at least 18 workers have been reported to have died, covering nine plants. These numbers are accurate up til April 27.

According to reports, Tyson does not offer paid sick leave, which has led some to speculate that workers could have gone to their jobs despite symptoms.

Sick pay

The open letter penned by John Tyson set out a defense of the company, outlining safety measures taken to protect staff, and saying the company has relaxed its attendance policy in a bid to ‘encourage workers to stay at home when they’re sick or feel uneasy about coming to work’.

The company is still not covering sick leave fully, with 60 percent of workers’ pay being covered by short-term disability, according to Business Insider. Tyson has waived the waiting period to qualify for short-term disability.

‘The food supply chain is vulnerable’

John Tyson wrote: “In small communities around the country where we employ over 100,000 hard-working men and women, we’re being forced to shutter our doors.

“This means one thing – the food supply chain is vulnerable. As pork, beef, and chicken plants are being forced to close, even for short periods of time, millions of pounds of meat will disappear from the supply chain.

“As a result, there will be limited supply of our products available in grocery stores until we are able to reopen our facilities that are currently closed.”

The bottom line

Animal rights charity PETA has released a statement saying Tyson is simply trying to protect its bottom line, and that slaughterhouses have always been dangerous places for workers.

The organization’s executive vice president Tracy Reiman said: “Slaughterhouses are the least safe places on Earth to work, and that was true even before the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Tyson could fix its problems entirely by switching its plants to processing the vegan meat that it’s already producing.”

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