Covid spreads in the slaughterhouses of the world, but in Italy not even tampons are made

Hundreds of positive cases around the world, new outbreaks, a curve that shows no sign of slowing down: the impact of Covid-19 on the global meat industry and its workers continues to fuel the concern of governments and health authorities. A problem that affects the United States, Brazil, Argentina, Australia. And it does not spare Europe and Italy, where the lack of transparency of the supply chain makes it difficult to really understand how much Coronavirus has affected workers in the sector.

In the last few days the new case has exploded Germany, which involved Europe’s largest slaughterhouse in North Rhine-Westphalia where 16 million pigs are processed every year and nearly 7 thousand employees. On 17 June, the authorities confirmed the existence of a Covid19 outbreak, with over 1,300 cases of infection already established. Not an isolated case:
according to a dossier of the Food and Environment Reporting Network (Fern) even before the German case
there were 2,670 cases of contagion in meat processing plants. In the United States, the link between slaughterhouses and the spread of Covid is far more pronounced than in Europe. According to the same Fern dossier, at the beginning of June the count had reached 20 thousand cases and 92 victims among workers. Some American outbreaks have even passed the German case, such as in the Smithfield pig slaughterhouse in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. It is one of the main plants in the country, with 3,700 employees and a capacity to slaughter 19,500 animals every day. Already at the beginning of May there were over 1,000 Covid cases involving employees and direct contacts. The role of slaughterhouses in the spread of Covid in the United States has become so evident that
a Usa Today investigation has tried to cross the population’s contagion data with the areas where the slaughterhouses are located
. The results showed a 75 percent increase in the incidence of the epidemic in the counties where the facilities are located.

The multiplication of cases has prompted the authorities and companies in Europe to make carpet swabs in slaughterhouses where there were also small outbreaks. In this way outbreaks emerged in 19 facilities in Ireland (956 cases in all), one poultry in Wales (158 cases), three in France (115, 54 and 9 cases), three in Holland (147, 21 and 28 cases) , one in Belgium (70 cases) and six in Spain. In all these cases almost all the workers were asymptomatic. At the end of May also the main slaughterhouse of Denmark, owned by the Danish Crown,
it was closed for a few days
while on 2 June the association of producers in the United Kingdom asked the government for help because of a lack of workforce.

In Italy the relationship between Covid and slaughterhouses was discussed with reference to a plant in Puglia, the slaughterhouse of the Siciliani company in Palo del Colle. Here at the end of April, the authorities counted a total of 71 positive cases out of 500 employees, triggering the closure of the plant for two weeks. “The company found out from the health authority that four workers on duty in the slaughterhouse had tested positive for Coronavirus,” reconstructs the company. Siciliani then says that she “planned, in consultation with the health authorities, the execution of an important campaign of about one hundred swabs, which mainly concerned the workers of the ward in question. What is not known is that all subjects tested positive in the company are completely asymptomatic and that the innovative approach adopted has led, by means of a carpet screening of an exclusively precautionary nature, to the identification of positivity that otherwise would not have been He emerged. ” In other words, according to the company, this outbreak would have remained hidden if, in front of isolated cases of positivity, carpet swabs had not been placed on all employees.

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In the rest of the country, until the month of June, no other outbreaks emerged, but no carpet swabs were made even in the face of some cases of positivity in the structures. “We have to remember that until recently there was no availability of making tampons,” says François Tomei, president of Assocarni, an acronym with which 120 slaughterhouses (but not that of Palo del Colle) are associated, which represent about 70 percent of production in Italy. Just a few days ago with our partner Unisalute we worked on the topic of tests and tampons. A month and a half ago the same Unisalute told us that we couldn’t do it, not even privately. The only means we had was to be very careful. ” According to Assocarni, there were few cases of Covid-positive workers in the associated slaughterhouses.

One of the slaughterhouses most affected by the lockdown was probably the Inalca plant in Ospedaletto Lodigiano. The plant, approximately 750 employees (of which approximately 650 are contracted), halved its activity at the beginning of the epidemic, being on the edge of the first red area of ​​Codogno. “The first municipalities that declared the red zone were close to the slaughterhouse, Casalpusterlengo, Codogno, so we were all quarantined, more than half of us stayed home, closed in the municipality, and the company went on with very few people” , says an employee. When the quarantine was over, they left more than half of us home with the layoffs, so they created the conditions for the distancing. “

According to a union source inside the company, in those first weeks of the epidemic “several productions were moved to the Inalca plant in Castelvetro (Modena, ed), where another 50 temporary workers were hired”. In this plant, reports the source, the company and the union have verified four positive cases at Covid, plus an employee of the administration. After confirmed cases, the source added, no carpet swabs were made to other employees. «In terms of safety, the company started late. At the beginning we worked at extraordinary rhythms, we had no protections, people were pressed, we also worked on Saturdays and Sundays. Then when the government closed, we slowly got into safety. ” In these days the committee for the safety of workers of the Inalca plant in Castelvetro has asked to carry out serological tests to everyone, but – according to union sources – the company would not have responded. The Inalca was not available for an interview on the issue of contagion in its facilities, nor to allow us to visit the plant.

Union sources also denounce opacity in other slaughterhouses in Italy, especially with regard to the world of contract workers, who often represent the majority of the workforce. “From our observatory, we can say that in the province of Modena there have been a few dozen infections in the slaughterhouses”, says Marco Bottura, trade unionist Flai Cgil, based on INAIL statistical data and reports from the same positive workers, “we can suspect that there are states that we do not know about in the whole procurement system, where there are many foreign workers who are members of communities who live in close contact and go to work with common means. But to date we have only news through the streets or someone who has come to be sponsored. “

Roberto Montanari, a union based in Piacenza, who also represents logistics workers who work in slaughterhouses through contracts, says the same opinion: «We do not have a precise number of infected people. We know that there have been infections because we know which of our members benefited from the quarantine “.

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A state of unrest and a strike were proclaimed in early March by the workers of the Aia plant in San Martino Buon Albergo (Verona), one of the largest poultry slaughterhouses in Italy with over 2,200 employees and 160,000 chickens slaughtered every day. “In the sector of slaughtering and processing of poultry meat it is almost impossible to find the distance because the workers are side by side,” says Paolo Vaghini, trade unionist Fai Cisl of Verona. «In our opinion we had to reduce the lines a little. In order to cope with the increase in market demand, the company unilaterally activated the mandatory overtime “, which remained until the beginning of June. According to Vaghini, the state of turmoil was withdrawn after the company ensured workers’ personal protective equipment and better shift management. The trade unionist does not have exact data on the contagion numbers in the plant, but talks about some units, and confirms that to date no swabs or carpet tests have been carried out in the plant.

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Also in the area of ​​Forlì and Cesena, poultry production district, different sources report cases of Covid in poultry slaughtering plants: “There have been cases in slaughterhouses,” says an employee of an association of workers. “In Romagna we have many poultry slaughterhouses and there have also been cases here, but they have managed to identify them: generally they created a team system, so that when an infection was detected in one shift, the whole shift stopped, which did not he never mixed with other shifts, with other sectors ». Alessandro Scarponi of Uila Uil reports that during the outbreak period, the main slaughterhouse in Amadori, in San Vittore, also hired 100 new employees to deal with production.

In the last days of June, press sources report of two new outbreaks discovered in a slaughterhouse and in a meat processing plant in the Mantua area, each with 12 proven cases of Covid positive workers19. In the slaughterhouse, located in Viadana and owned by the Pini group, the company asked to swab all 400 employees to find out the real size of the outbreak. In light of the outbreaks born around this type of plant in the world, the choice of making carpet swabs in the case of some virus-positive workers seems more necessary than ever.

Another aspect remains unexplored, that of logistics that revolves around this industry. “In the city where I live there are approximately 10,000 people who work in logistics, among them there are those of the slaughterhouses,” continues Roberto Montanari. «They continued to shoot throughout this period. Piacenza is one of the cities that has had the maximum number of infected and dead. It is difficult to think that so many people who shot did not contribute to the spread of the virus ».