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Baldwin, Colleagues Demand Answers After CDC Weakens COVID-19 Workplace Safety Guidance for Nation’s Largest Meatpacking Plant

WASHINGTON, D.C. – In a letter to Trump administration health officials, U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin, ranking member of the Senate Employment and Workforce Subcommittee, joined her colleagues to request information regarding the watering down of Centers for Disease Control recommendations to a South Dakota meatpacking plant that experienced a major COVID-19 outbreak. 

The letter was sent to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) by Baldwin, Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-WA), House Education and Labor Committee Chairman Robert C. “Bobby” Scott (VA-03) and Workforce Protections Subcommittee Chair Alma Adams (NC-12).

The Members expressed deep concern regarding the CDC’s irregular process of responding to COVID-19 exposure at the Smithfield Foods Sioux Falls Pork Plant, one the nation’s largest meatpacking centers. Following the CDC’s visit to the plant in April, the agency issued an Epi Aid report containing recommendations outlining how the plant can reduce disease transmission among workers. However, that document was immediately withdrawn and then watered down in a final version that was posted on CDC’s website.  In the revised document, the CDC framed its science-based recommendations as purely optional by inserting phrases in directives such as “if feasible,” “consider,” and “if possible.” 

What is more concerning, on September 23, Dr. Redfield testified before the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions that the changes were made simply to clarify that the recommendations were advisory and not regulatory requirements, although other CDC Epi Aids do not include similar weakening phrases. 

“He also testified that he had no contact with the Department of Agriculture (USDA), the White House, or Smithfield about this matter, which seems to contradict CDC officials who have confirmed an April 22 phone call between the CDC Director and the USDA Secretary,” the Members wrote.

The Members are asking for documents from HHS, CDC, and NIOSH to better understand why the changes were made from Version 1 to Version 2 and who influenced the process. To read the full letter, click here.

In a separate letter to USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue, Members request documents outlining any communication between USDA and CDC or Smithfield concerning the development of guidance for Smithfield. Read the letter here.