New wave of packing plant closures unlikely, JBS executive says

Another wave of meatpacking plant closures due to the pandemic is unlikely, the CEO of JBS USA said at the recent Wall Street Journal Global Food Forum.

CEO Andre Nogueira said that worker testing and safety practices have improved at the plants since the spring, when outbreaks led to plant closures, which led to a backlog of animals that couldn’t be slaughtered.

“I’m pretty confident we are not going to have the size of the disruption we saw in April and May,” Nogueira said.

The Wall Street Journal reported that JBS’ efforts to improve worker safety have given workers some confidence, even as the country faces the prospect of a new spike in infections going into the fall.

“In the back of our minds, we all know there’s a potential for a second wave,” Mark Lauritsen, head of food processing, packing and manufacturing at the United Food & Commercial Workers Union, told The Journal.

In Germany, a top government official has asked states to allow meatpackers to work longer hours as they deal with a backlog. “The situation on some farms is tense and livestock producers are concerned,” Agriculture Minister Julia Kloeckner said in a statement, reported by Reuters.

Nogueira’s remarks came shortly before The New York Times reported about challenges for families of JBS employees who died from COVID-19. While worker compensation is available for on-the-job injuries, it’s been more difficult to get compensation for the coronavirus, since employees’ infections can’t be traced specifically to the plants where they worked.