People should boycott meat in a bid to protect essential workers, says a top plant-based doctor.
The event brought together a coalition of civil rights leaders and public health experts - led by the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) - who are calling for a widespread boycott of meat to protect workers’ safety and to promote public health.
A top analyst branded U.S. meatpacking facilities 'COVID-19 hotpots' earlier this year, as infection levels within the facilities have outpaced the rest of the country.
According to the Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting, which has been compiling data of the positive cases and deaths, as of June 25, there have been at least 25,700 reported positive cases tied to meatpacking facilities in at least 243 plants in 33 states, and at least 95 reported worker deaths at 39 plants in 24 states.
Despite the outbreaks, Donald Trump signed an executive order at the end of April compelling the facilities to stay open during the pandemic.
The U.S. President told reporters that the slaughterhouses closed because of 'sort of a legal roadblock more than anything else' adding that the order solves 'liability problems'.
The move was unpopular with unions, with the Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Union saying: "We only wish that this administration cared as much about the lives of working people as it does about meat, pork and poultry products."
But despite the executive order, the coalition says that meat is not an essential product - and therefore the dangerous working conditions in meatpacking facilities are unnecessarily risky.
In fact, the coalition says, not only is meat not an essential food, but replacing meat with plant protein could actually significantly boost Americans’ health. It cites a recent Harvard study which found that those who ate the most plant protein were 27 percent less likely to die of any cause and 29 percent less likely to die from heart disease, compared with people who ate the least.
'You could be dead in two weeks'
Dr. Barnard said: "We at the Physicians Committee have been concerned about the health effects more broadly for people consuming meat. When people consume these products, we know that over the long run, they can be very dangerous. But right now, if you step into a meatpacking facility, you could be dead in two weeks. There is no reason for something like that to occur.
"I grew up in Fargo, North Dakota, and my extended family is all in the meat industry, and they’re good and decent folks. Like the tobacco farmers before them, they got involved in an industry thinking they were making a product that was safe and healthful, but science caught up with them, and we realized that tobacco causes lung cancer.
"That put the industry in a tough position, and it put the workers in a tough position, too. But the government jumped in and supported a transition away from those products. A generation later, that’s exactly where we are with meat."