How did Europe avoid a Covid-19 crisis at its meatpacking plants?

In the United States, Covid-19 has been sweeping through meatpacking plants, infecting more than 24,000 workers and killing at least 92 of them. Those figures are more than nine-times larger than at meat plants in Europe, though the U.S. industry has only a third more workers.  Bridget Huber explains how Europe largely avoided the crisis sweeping the U.S. industry in FERN’s latest story.

“While no single factor explains this discrepancy, union officials, academics and market analysts all say that differences in baseline worker protections, the ways the industry is structured, and the political response to the virus are likely at play,” she writes.

Plants tend to be smaller in Europe, meaning infections can be contained. Line speeds are on average slower, which may impact the ability to social distance at work. Finally, governments  have also pledged to protections of workers, which, as in the United States, tend to be immigrants or visiting workers. In contrast, President Trump moved to insure that all U.S. meat plants remained open, despite the spread of the disease.

“Furthermore, unions and large companies are largely in agreement about coronavirus safety protocols,” Huber writes. Kristjan Bragason, the general secretary of the European Federation of Food, Agriculture and Tourism Trade Unions, said his union and the sector’s largest industry group, Food Drink Europe, for example, have jointly issued Covid-19 safety guidelines for food processing facilities.

So far in Europe, 2,670 coronavirus cases have been reported at meatpacking facilities and four workers have died, according to an analysis of news reports, government figures and union statistics.