As more meat processors close their plants because of the growing numbers of coronavirus cases among their employees, the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) union, warned about a meat shortage if more is not done for meatpacking workers.

According to the UFCW, there has said there has been a 25% reduction in pork processing and a 10% reduction in beef capacity because of COVID-19 pandemic.

The news of the reduced meat production comes as the UFCW called upon the White House Coronavirus Task Force to offer more protections for meatpacking and food processing workers. In a letter to Vice President Pence, the UFCW urged the task force to take more safety actions for these essential workers.

The UFCW called for increased worker testing, access to PPE, a halt of line speed waivers, mandated social distancing, and the isolation of workers with COVID-19 symptoms or those that have tested positive.

“Across this country, we are seeing the impact when the government fails to take steps to protect these essential workers,” Marc Perrone, International President of the United Food & Commercial Workers, said in a statement.

“It needs to both provide testing and protective equipment and issue clear and direct safety guidelines that companies can and must enforce. This is not just about whether we will have enough beef, chicken, and pork to feed our families. It is – for these workers – a matter of life and death.”

The UFCE cited as many as 10 meatpacking workers and three food processing employees that have died from the coronavirus with another 5,000 meatpackers and 1,500 food processors directly impacted by COVID-19, including those that have tested positive for the virus, missed work from self-quarantine, are waiting on test results, or have been hospitalized and are symptomatic.

The impact from the coronavirus has closed 13 plants in the last two months, with 24,500 workers impacted by the closures, the union said.

“America’s food processing and meatpacking workers are in extreme danger, and our nation’s food supply faces a direct threat from the coronavirus outbreak,” Perrone said.

“If workers in these plants are as essential as our elected leaders say, then it’s about time that our elected leaders provide them with the essential protections they need. Make no mistake, without national safety standards to protect these workers from the coronavirus – more lives will be lost, more workers will be exposed, and our food supply will face jeopardy,” he added.

Beef Recall for E
Beef getting cut at Laurenzo's Italian Center on January 13, 2014 in North Miami Beach, Florida. Getty Images/Joe Raedle