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Following an executive order directing the U.S. Department of Agriculture to ensure the continued supply of meat and poultry, twenty state attorneys general have submitted a letter urging President Trump to strengthen guidance for meatpacking facilities by requiring increased access to testing and personal protective equipment, implementation of physical distancing where possible, suspension of line speed waivers, and paid leave for workers in isolation or quarantine following exposure to COVID-19. “The industry’s failure to act earlier to protect its labor force, and the Administration’s lack of leadership and support for testing, procurement of personal protective equipment (PPE), and enforcement of federal worker safety standards, will be among the many regrettable lapses contributing to the tragic story of America’s experience with this pandemic,” the letter asserts. The letter calls for voluntary guidance provided to meatpacking facilities to become mandatory. “Even if these recommendations were sufficient to maintain worker safety, however, they…

The estate of a meatpacking plant employee who died from a COVID-19 infection has sued JBS S.A. for negligence, wrongful death, misrepresentation and survival, alleging that the man’s death "was the predictable and preventable result of the JBS Defendants’ decisions to ignore worker safety.” Benjamin v. JBS S.A., No. 200500370 (Pa. C.P., Phila. Cty., filed May 7, 2020). According to the complaint, JBS increased production in March 2020 to meet increased demand for meat as shelter-in-place orders began to take effect across the United States. The estate argues that JBS “failed to provide sufficient personal protective equipment,” “forced workers to work in close proximity,” “forced workers to use cramped and crowded work areas, break areas, restrooms, and hallways,” “discouraged workers from taking sick leave in a manner that had sick workers in fear of losing their jobs,” and “failed to properly provide testing and monitoring for individuals who may have…

President Trump has issued an executive order directing Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue to “ensure the continued supply of meat and poultry” consistent with guidance issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. CDC also issued a report on COVID-19 at meat and poultry processing facilities for the month of April 2020 that found 4,913 cases and 20 deaths among 130,000 workers and cited, among other risks, “crowded, multigenerational” residences and carpooling as relevant factors increasing the likelihood of transmission among employees. The government actions coincide with lawsuits seeking to hold meat and poultry processing plants liable for injury or death caused by COVID-19, including a wrongful death lawsuit brought against Quality Sausage Co. following the death of a forklift driver who allegedly contracted the coronavirus from coworkers. Parra v. Quality Sausage Co., No. DC-20-06406 (Tex. Dist. Ct., filed April 30,…

The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) has publicly released its April 2020 report on the partnership between the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Department of Agriculture (USDA) on the development of cell-cultured meat. GAO indicated that it began the inquiry after some stakeholders “expressed concern about the agencies' oversight of cell-cultured meat amidst a fragmented federal food safety oversight system.” GAO recommended that “FDA and USDA more fully incorporate leading practices for effective collaboration in the agencies' interagency agreement,” and the agencies “partially concurred and indicated a willingness to incorporate these practices in a more detailed agreement, which would also meet the intent of the recommendations.”

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit has affirmed a lower court’s dismissal of a putative class action alleging Dunkin’ Brands Inc. misled consumers about the cuts of meat in its “Angus” line of products. Chen v. Dunkin’ Brands Inc., No. 18-3087 (2nd Cir., entered March 31, 2020). The plaintiffs argued that Dunkin marketed its products as containing “Angus Steak” despite containing ground beef patties rather than “an ‘intact’ piece of meat.” The appeals court first affirmed the dismissal of several plaintiffs on jurisdictional grounds before considering the merits of the argument. The complaint “identified three Dunkin Donuts television advertisements, providing descriptions along with video links, and alleged that the advertisements were deceptive in their use of the word ‘steak,’” the court noted. “All three advertisements, however, conclude with multiple zoomed-in images that clearly depict the ‘steak’ in the Products as a beef patty.” The court turned to…

France's agriculture minister has reportedly announced that the country will prohibit the mass culling of male chicks shortly after they hatch and ban the castration of piglets without anesthesia in an effort to support animal welfare. The minister indicated his intention to have the regulations take effect by the end of 2021. Germany previously banned the practice, but a court invalidated the law until a method for determining the sex of an embryo in the egg can be developed.

As consumers prioritize animal welfare more highly when purchasing meat, more companies are claiming to hold their production facilities to high standards—and more plaintiffs are disagreeing. Advocacy groups have targeted multiple companies for their allegedly misleading marketing touting their humane housing or slaughtering practices. For example, the Organic Consumers Association and Food & Water Watch filed a lawsuit against Pilgrim's Pride Corp. challenging the conditions of its chickens in its production plants. Facing a similar lawsuit, Hormel Foods Corp. won summary judgment when the D.C. Superior Court found the Animal Legal Defense Fund's claims to be preempted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. In addition, the European Court of Justice considered what slaughter methods could warrant an "organic" label, determining that cows must be stunned before they are slaughtered. The National Advertising Division also recommended changes to a marketing campaign following a complaint that Clemens Food Group used misleading language…

The dispute over the meaning of meat- and dairy-related terms continued in 2019, with more states passing bans on the use of terms implying animal-derived products, such as "burger" or "milk," to describe plant-based products. Nebraska, Arizona and Washington considered bans, and Arkansas' ban was targeted with a challenge from Tofurky that has resulted in a temporary injunction preventing the state from enforcing the statute against the company. Similarly, Mississippi proposed amendments to its meat-defining law after a "vegan bacon" and "vegan chorizo" company argued that the law "harms society." A Missouri court, meanwhile, denied the Good Food Institute's and American Civil Liberties Union's motion for a preliminary injunction to enforce the state's meat-labeling statute. In addition, a bipartisan bill introduced in November, the Real MEAT Act, would define meat-related terms if the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) "fail[] to take appropriate action." The issue…

An Arkansas federal court has granted Turtle Island Foods SPC, which does business as Tofurky Co., a preliminary injunction preventing the enforcement against it of an Arkansas law prohibiting the use of meat-related terms to describe plant-based products on food packaging. Turtle Island Foods SPC v. Soman, No. 19-0514 (E.D. Ark., C. Div., entered December 11, 2019). The court found that Tofurky "likely faces ruinous civil liability, enormous operational costs, or a cessation of in-state operations" if the statute is enforced against it. The court granted the preliminary injunction despite Arkansas' indication that it "does not intend to begin enforcement" until the constitutional challenge is resolved because "there is nothing in the record binding the State to that position" and "the State has made no assurances that it will not levy retroactive penalties for Tofurky's alleged violations of Act 501 between the law's passage and this litigation's conclusion."

The Center for Food Safety (CFS) has filed a petition urging the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to provide transparency on the levels of drug residue in meat, poultry and egg products found as part of the agency's National Residue Program (NRP). The advocacy group specifically requests that all approved animal drugs be incorporated in the NRP; that the NRP use "the best available methods that provide for the lowest limits of detection and quantitation"; that USDA establish "clear definitions and parameters for minimum levels of applicability"; and that the agency "improve the NRP reporting mechanisms to provide publicly-available information on all samples with positive residues regardless of whether the levels detected exceed minimum levels of applicability or [U.S. Food and Drug Administration] tolerances."

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