Meatpacking Plants Cause $11.2 Billion In Negative Economic Impact From COVID-19 Disease Spread, Study Finds

By Heather van Blokland
Published: Wednesday, April 21, 2021 - 5:05am
Updated: Wednesday, April 21, 2021 - 9:29am

More than 330,000 COVID-19 cases are attributable to meatpacking plants, resulting in $11.2 billion in economic damage. That’s according to a new study co-authored by University of Arizona researchers.

Dan Scheitrum is assistant professor with University of Arizona's Agricultural and Resource Economics Department and part of the team that looked at large meatpacking facilities and the spread of COVID-19.

Scheitrum said the $11.2 billion estimate is conservative because it is only accounting for lost wages and does not include other economic impacts. He also said the in addition to the 334,000 COVID cases, 18,000 COVID-related deaths can be attributed to the large meatpacking plants across the country.

That includes a large beef packing plant in Tolleson — although study authors do not estimate county specific data or attribute COVID-19 spread to any one plant over another. The study finds beef- and pork-processing plants more than doubled per capita infection rates. Chicken-processing plants increased transmission rates by 20%.

The study finds that counties with a large plant have higher COVID-19 infection rates, "... significantly higher infection rates compared to counties without them. And this is even after controlling for a multitude of other differences across counties like climate, demographics, population density and so on,” according to Scheitrum.

Over time, infection rates for counties with meatpacking facilities became the same as those for counties without. Scheitrum said that is because of social distancing, barriers in the workplace and personal protective equipment, but also because community spread became an increased source of disease transmission, reducing the significance of cluster locations.

The study is published in the journal Food Policy.

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