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  1. News Release

  2. Aug 12, 2020

Doctors Sue USDA for Ignoring Concerns About Potential Presence of SARS-CoV-2 on Meat And Poultry Products

Slaughterhouses are a primary vector for spread of coronavirus, lawsuit explains

WASHINGTON—The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine—a nonprofit with more than 12,000 doctor members—filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Agriculture on August 12 for ignoring concerns about the presence of SARS-CoV-2 on meat products and packaging. The lawsuit comes as the USDA recently denied the organization’s May 20 petition requesting that the USDA require slaughterhouses to test meat and poultry for SARS-CoV-2 prior to making it available for sale and require grocery stores to warn consumers of the potential presence of SARS-CoV-2 on meat and poultry products.

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, thousands of slaughterhouse workers have been infected with SARS-CoV-2. As of August 11, there were at least 40,517 infections and 189 deaths among U.S. meat packing plant workers, according to the Food & Environment Reporting Network.
"Plant workers who are asymptomatic may still be viral carriers," says Neal Barnard, MD, president of the Physicians Committee. "Because these workers directly handle meat and poultry products, and because the COVID-19 virus is easily airborne, transmission of the virus to the products they handle is likely, which means transmission of the virus into people's homes is likely." 

Although studies show that infectious viruses easily survive during refrigeration and freezing, meat companies do not routinely test the extent to which meat products are contaminated with the virus. Researchers have not specifically tested the temperature at which meat and poultry products would have to be heated to kill SARS-CoV-2.  

Meat consumption also raises the risk for many of the underlying medical conditions—diabetes, hypertension, obesity, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease—that can make SARS-CoV-2 infections more deadly. A recent study found that regular consumption of processed meat, red meat, or poultry increases the risk for cardiovascular disease. 

U.S. slaughterhouses remain under intense pressure to produce meat and poultry products, despite risks to workers and the public. Today, no U.S. slaughterhouse tests its meat and poultry products or packaging for the presence of the virus.

To speak with Dr. Barnard or another Physicians Committee expert, please contact Leslie Raabe at 202-527-7319.

Media Contact

Leslie Raabe



Founded in 1985, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine is a nonprofit organization that promotes preventive medicine, conducts clinical research, and encourages higher standards for ethics and effectiveness in education and research.

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