Meat is a multi-billion-dollar industry that relies on people performing risky physical work inside meat-processing facilities over long shifts in close proximity. These workers are socially disempowered, and many are members of groups beset by historic and ongoing structural discrimination. The combination of working conditions and worker characteristics facilitate the spread of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. Workers have been expected to put their health and lives at risk during the pandemic because of government and industry pressures to keep this “essential industry” producing. Numerous interventions can significantly reduce the risks to workers and their communities; however, the industry’s implementation has been sporadic and inconsistent. With a focus on the U.S. context, this paper offers an ethical framework for infection prevention and control recommendations grounded in public health values of health and safety, interdependence and solidarity, and health equity and justice, with particular attention to considerations of reciprocity, equitable burden sharing, harm reduction, and health promotion. Meat-processing workers are owed an approach that protects their health relative to the risks of harms to them, their families, and their communities. Sacrifices from businesses benefitting financially from essential industry status are ethically warranted and should acknowledge the risks assumed by workers in the context of existing structural inequities.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Health(social science)
- Health Policy