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LA Times featured Haub Law Professor Margot Pollans piece in "Op-Ed: Everything wrong with our food system has been made worse by the pandemic"

05/04/2020

LA Times featured Haub Law Professor Margot Pollans piece in "Op-Ed: Everything wrong with our food system has been made worse by the pandemic"

Last Tuesday, President Trump invoked the Defense Production Act to direct the Secretary of Agriculture to “take all appropriate action . . . to ensure that meat and poultry processors continue operations.”

Although technically the executive order neither forces plants to open nor compels workers to show up, it reveals the president’s utter disregard for plant workers who could face a high risk of contracting COVID-19 from workplaces contaminated with the coronavirus. According to the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, more than 5,000 workers at meat processing plants have already been sickened, at least 20 have died, and more than 20 plants have had to close in recent weeks.

It is a cruel irony that Trump for so long refused to use the Defense Production Act to order production of lifesaving medical equipment, and now does it so readily to protect the multibillion-dollar meatpacking industry.

This executive order should come as no surprise. It is entirely consistent with the president’s many policies that harm immigrants and minorities. Most of these workers are people of color, and, according to the Government Accountability Office, about 28% are foreign-born. Many were recruited from abroad to take these jobs, which are low paying and dangerous even in the best of times.

Perhaps less obviously, the executive order is consistent with a troubling pattern in federal food law: the systemic disregard for the health and safety of workers. Federal food law prioritizes the interests of food consumers over those of food system workers. When food sickens consumers, the law on the books provides for aggressive action.

By contrast, when food workers are at risk, the federal government has a bad track record. From underenforced pesticide safety laws to inadequate protections from debt slavery and other forms of exploitation, the interests of food system workers come last. Before the pandemic, the Trump administration further weakened pesticide protection and relaxed laws governing line speed in meat processing plants. Faster production lines increase the risk of workplace injury. The federal government’s lax approach to protecting food system workers from COVID-19 continues this trend.

Read the full LA Times article.