The North American Meat Institute (Meat Institute) and the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) last month signed a two-year alliance to provide Meat Institute members, the public, and other stakeholders with information, guidance, and access to training resources that will help employee protections..

But since it became public knowledge, some are questioning the propriety of OSHA being in an exclusive agreement with the meat lobby.  The Meat Institute and OSHA might be getting too chummy under the agreement.

“This announcement is very troubling because, while it’s appropriate for an agency to provide information and guidance to the industry it inspects and regulates, a formal alliance like this gives the impression that OSHA intends to exercise enforcement discretion for participating companies,” says Brian Ronholm, Director of Food Policy for Consumer Reports. “OSHA has been dismissive of the safety concerns expressed by meat and poultry workers, and this announcement seems to indicate the agency will continue to abdicate their enforcement responsibilities and give companies a free pass.”

Ronholm is a former USDA deputy undersecretary for food safety.

The agreement he is questioning is not all that unusual.   The agreement was signed on July 29 and made public on Aug.12.

OSHA and the Meat Institute agree ” to work together to achieve the following objectives:

  • Share information among OSHA personnel and industry safety and health professionals (e.g., via regular teleconferences and online communication tools) regarding potential exposure to COVID-19 and the challenges for exposure control in meatpacking and processing facilities.
  • Develop information on the recognition of COVID-19 transmission risks and best practices on preventing such transmission, and disseminate these resources (e.g., via print and electronic media, electronic assistance tools, and OSHA and the NAMI websites) to employers and workers in the industry.
  • Conduct outreach through joint forums, roundtable discussions, stakeholder meetings, webinars, or other formats on OSHA guidance and NAMI’s good practices or effective approaches for preventing COVID-19 transmission in meat packing and processing facilities.
  • Speak, exhibit, or appear at OSHA and NAMI conferences, local meetings, and other events regarding good practices and available resources for preventing COVID-19 transmission.
  • Encourage NAMI members and other industry stakeholders to build relationships with OSHA’s Regional and Area Offices and State Plans, and to utilize OSHA’s On-Site Consultation Program to improve health and safety and prevent COVID-19 transmission in meatpacking and processing facilities.”

“Through this alliance, we look forward to working with OSHA to continue our work to protect the health and safety of the men and women who work in meat and poultry facilities during the COVID-19 pandemic and thereafter,” said Meat Institute President and Chief Executive Officer Julie Anna Potts. “These workers are essential to making food for our nation and are a critical part of our rural economies.”

“The security of America’s food supply relies on meat processing facilities continuing to operate with a healthy workforce,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health Loren Sweatt. “Together, OSHA and the North American Meat Institute can help ensure that employers in this critical industry have the tools and information they need to protect workers from the risk of the coronavirus.”

During the two-year alliance, participants will develop information on recognizing coronavirus transmission risks and best practices for preventing transmission, and on challenges for exposure control in meatpacking and processing facilities. Alliance participants will also conduct outreach to small- and medium-sized facilities on available guidance and compliance assistance resources, including the On-Site Consultation Program, and will work together on other outreach activities, including providing information on OSHA’s enforcement policies and procedures relevant to the meatpacking and processing industry.

For the full text of the agreement go here.

The North American Meat Institute is the top lobbying organization for the meat industry.  Its members process the vast majority of U.S. beef, pork, lamb, and poultry, as well as manufacture the equipment and ingredients needed to produce the meat and poultry products.

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