USDA ignored concerns about coronavirus on meat products and packaging, doctor group alleges in lawsuit

CDC says the risk of contracting COVID-19 from food or food packaging is 'very low'

A pro-vegan physicians group is suing the U.S. Department of Agriculture, alleging it is "ignoring concerns" about the possibility of coronavirus spreading through meat products and packaging.

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The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, which says it counts more than 12,000 doctors among its members, filed suit last week. The group said it sued after the USDA denied its petition to require meat plants test their products for coronavirus before selling them and require stores to post warnings that meat products are not "certified virus-free."

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"Plant workers who are asymptomatic may still be viral carriers," Physicians Committee President Neal Barnard said in a statement. "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."

More than 40,000 meatpacking workers have contracted coronavirus, the Physicians Committee said, citing the Food & Environment Reporting Network.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says there is "very low" risk of contracting the disease from food, treated drinking water or food packaging, and that the disease mostly spreads from person to person via respiratory droplets.

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The North American Meat Institute, a trade group representing companies including Tyson Foods and Cargill, accused the Physicians Committee of spreading "misinformation."

Workers line up to enter the Tyson Foods pork processing plant in Logansport, Ind., May 7, 2020. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

"PCRM has long opposed animal agriculture and is willing to use fear to spread misinformation in a pathetic attempt to accomplish their agenda," a Meat Institute spokesperson told FOX Business in a statement. "This activist group makes claims in direct opposition to global experts at the CDC, [World Health Organization], and [Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations]. These global experts say there is no scientific evidence that COVID 19 can be transmitted by handling or consuming food."

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Meat processing plants have been at the center of coronavirus hot spots in many rural states with otherwise low case counts, including South Dakota and its Smithfield Foods pork processing plant in Sioux Falls. A number of plants had already experienced outbreaks by late April, when President Trump issued an executive order invoking the Defense Production Act ordering meat plants to keep operating to protect the country's food supply during the pandemic.

FOX Business' inquiry to USDA was not immediately returned.

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