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Apr 28 2020

The past is never dead. It’s not even past.

The Jungle

There were the men in the pickle rooms, for instance, where old Antanas had gotten his death; scarce a one of these that had not some spot of horror on his person. Let a man so much as scrape his finger pushing a truck in the pickle rooms, and he might have a sore that would put him out of the world; all the joints in his fingers might be eaten by the acid, one by one.

Of the butchers and floorsmen, the beef-boners and trimmers, and all those who used knives, you could scarcely find a person who had the use of his thumb; time and time again the base of it had been slashed, till it was a mere lump of flesh against which the man pressed the knife to hold it. The hands of these men would be criss-crossed with cuts, until you could no longer pretend to count them or to trace them. They would have no nails,–they had worn them off pulling hides; their knuckles were swollen so that their fingers spread out like a fan.

There were men who worked in the cooking rooms, in the midst of steam and sickening odors, by artificial light; in these rooms the germs of tuberculosis might live for two years, but the supply was renewed every hour.

There were the beef-luggers, who carried two-hundred-pound quarters into the refrigerator-cars; a fearful kind of work, that began at four o’clock in the morning, and that wore out the most powerful men in a few years.

There were those who worked in the chilling rooms, and whose special disease was rheumatism; the time limit that a man could work in the chilling rooms was said to be five years.

There were the wool-pluckers, whose hands went to pieces even sooner than the hands of the pickle men; for the pelts of the sheep had to be painted with acid to loosen the wool, and then the pluckers had to pull out this wool with their bare hands, till the acid had eaten their fingers off.

There were those who made the tins for the canned meat; and their hands, too, were a maze of cuts, and each cut represented a chance for blood poisoning. Some worked at the stamping machines, and it was very seldom that one could work long there at the pace that was set, and not give out and forget himself and have a part of his hand chopped off.

There were the “hoisters,” as they were called, whose task it was to press the lever which lifted the dead cattle off the floor. They ran along upon a rafter, peering down through the damp and the steam; and as old Durham’s architects had not built the killing room for the convenience of the hoisters, at every few feet they would have to stoop under a beam, say four feet above the one they ran on; which got them into the habit of stooping, so that in a few years they would be walking like chimpanzees.

Worst of any, however, were the fertilizer men, and those who served in the cooking rooms. These people could not be shown to the visitor for the odor of a fertilizer man would scare any ordinary visitor at a hundred yards, and as for the other men, who worked in tank rooms full of steam, and in some of which there were open vats near the level of the floor, their peculiar trouble was that they fell into the vats; and when they were fished out, there was never enough of them left to be worth exhibiting, sometimes they would be overlooked for days, till all but the bones of them had gone out to the world as Durham’s Pure Leaf Lard!

1906.

2020.

Trump to Order U.S. Meat Plants to Stay Open Amid Pandemic
By Jennifer Jacobs, Bloomberg News
4/28/20

President Donald Trump plans to order meat-processing plants to remain open, declaring them critical infrastructure as the nation confronts growing disruptions to the food supply from the coronavirus outbreak, a person familiar with the matter said.

Trump plans to use the Defense Production Act to order the companies to stay open during the pandemic, and the government will provide additional protective gear for employees as well as guidance, according to the person.

Trump signaled the executive action at the White House on Tuesday, saying he planned to sign an order aimed at Tyson Foods Inc.’s liability, which had become “a road block” for the company. He didn’t elaborate.

The order, though, will not be limited to Tyson, the person said. It will affect many processing plants supplying beef, chicken, eggs and pork.

Trump’s order sets the stage for a showdown between America’s meat giants, who’ve been pressing to reopen plants hit by mass outbreaks, and local officials and labor unions who’ve called for closures and are trying to prevent the virus from spreading. The president himself has long agitated for Americans to return to work and restore a U.S. economy crippled by social distancing measures.

The White House decided to make the move amid estimates that as much as 80% of U.S. meat production capacity could shut down. Meat stocks rose on the news.

Illnesses in the meat-processing industry and shifts in demand after restaurants closed have disrupted the supply chain. Dairy farmers are dumping milk that can’t be sold to processors, broiler operations have been breaking eggs to reduce supplies and some fruit and vegetables are rotting in fields amid labor and distribution disruptions.

Many low-income Americans, meanwhile, have been waiting in long lines at food banks, which have reported shortages.

Asked about the country’s food supply, Trump said: “There’s plenty of supply.”

The Defense Production Act allows the government broad power to direct industrial production in crises. Trump has previously invoked the law — or threatened to invoke it — in order to increase the supply of medical gear including ventilators, masks and swabs to test for coronavirus infection.

The White House has been discussing the order with meatpacking executives to determine what they need to operate safely and stay open, in order to prevent shortages, the person said. White House General Counsel Pat Cipollone worked with private companies to design a federal mandate to keep the plants open and to provide them additional virus testing capacity as well as protective gear.

Trump acted one day after Iowa’s two U.S. senators and its governor urged the administration to invoke the DPA to keep meatpackers open and reopen closed facilities “as soon as it is possible to do so safely.” Iowa produces one-third of the nation’s pork supply, according to the state officials.

The officials also asked for federal assistance in euthanizing pigs and reimbursing hog farmers for their losses due to closures of processing facilities.

Across the country, at least 6,500 meat processing employees have been impacted by the virus, meaning they either tested positive for the disease or had to go into self-quarantine, according to the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, the largest private-sector union. Twenty workers have died.

At least 22 meat plants have closed within the past two months, reducing pork processing capacity by 25% and beef processing capacity by 10%, according to UFCW. Farmers have animals with nowhere to go as a result, and the situation is so dire that the U.S. Department of Agriculture is setting up a center to help growers with “depopulation and disposal methods” for animals.

Experts have warned the U.S. could be just weeks away from fresh meat shortages. While inventories can provide some cushion, stockpiles are limited.

Total American meat supplies in cold-storage facilities are equal to roughly two weeks of production. With most plant shutdowns lasting about 14 days for safety reasons, that further underscores the potential for deficits.

And the shutdowns are happening at a time when global meat supplies were already tight. China, the world’s top hog producer, has been battling an outbreak of African swine fever, which destroyed millions of the country’s pigs.

Oddly enough the outrage created by Upton Sinclair’s book was based not on the horrific working conditions, but on the revulsion that there might be their remains mixed in with the Lard (not to mention the many other unsanitary practices).