meat processing

USDA/Alice Welch

Tyson Foods sought and received federal permission to increase the operating speed at poultry processing plants in Kentucky and southern Indiana even as public health officials reported dozens of coronavirus cases among Tyson workers. Now, a union representing workers at meatpacking plants in Kentucky and southern Indiana is one of several plaintiffs suing the federal government over waivers that allowed Tyson Foods and other companies to operate faster.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) granted waivers in April to several plants across the country, including to Tyson Foods plants in Henderson County, Kentucky, and Corydon, Indiana, near Louisville. The waiver program, which started in 2018 following USDA denying a petition from an industry group to remove processing limits, allows select poultry slaughterhouses to increase their top processing speed from 140 to 175 birds per minute.

Liam Niemeyer I Ohio Valley ReSource

Debby Dulworth has a lot of conversations with her cattle each day. She swings open a gate, driving the herd with repeated calls and the Hereford cattle, respond in kind with groans and snorts.

“They talk to me,” Dulworth said with a laugh, as the cows come bounding out into a fresh field of Kentucky fescue and buttercups. She’s been corralling them from pasture to pasture on her farm for decades near Monkey’s Eyebrow, Kentucky, nestled in a bend of the Ohio River.

Most of the time, they move at her call. The more stubborn ones she herds with the threat of an electric wire she slowly drags through the field. The wire isn’t hot usually, but the cows don’t know that.

Liam Niemeyer, Zoom screenshot

It’s the uncertainty that gets to Darlene Davis. The uncertainty of when she’ll see her 87-year-old mother in person again. The uncertainty of her co-workers’ health. The uncertainty that comes with the novel coronavirus.  

When a co-worker of hers at the JBS Swift meatpacking plant in Louisville died from COVID-19, she said that uncertainty turned into fear for many of the 1,200 employees at the plant. The Louisville Metro Health Department was made aware of the death on April 4. 


facebook/Perdue Farms

Public health officials in Kentucky are working with meat processing plants aross the state to minimize the spread of COVID-19.

The Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services reports the number of COVID-19 cases at Perdue Farms in Ohio County jumped from 186 to 281 last week.

Kentucky Commissioner for Public Health Dr. Steven Stack said the increase is the result of expanded testing of Perdue workers. 

“I’m very grateful for the open communication I’ve had with the leadership at Perdue. They did, just a few days ago, test the entire workforce and they had a positivity rate of about 7.8 percent or so, which is not as bad as we thought it could be," Dr. Stack said during a May 9 press conference with Gov. Andy Beshear.