Animal rights activists plan to protest in front of the Farmer John slaughterhouse in Vernon Monday, stringing together 7,000 paper hearts to honor the 7,000 pigs they estimate are killed at the facility each day.
The planned demonstration comes amid a growing COVID-19 outbreak at the facility, where 882 workers have been infected with the coronavirus. That’s more than double the number of cases reported just six weeks ago, and by far the largest outbreak at a nonresidential setting in Los Angeles County.
The only other similarly sized outbreak at an industrial facility is the 601 cases at Northrop-Grumman in Palmdale, according to the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health.
The activists say they are “drawing attention to the heartless attitude of the Smithfield corporation towards these sentient beings and to the workers at the facility.”
Virginia-based Smithfield Foods, which owns Farmer John, defended its health and safety record.
“Smithfield is a recognized leader in animal wellbeing as we produce safe, quality and nutritious food for so many people,” said Keira Lombardo, the firm’s chief administrative officer. “Smithfield employs veterinarians and other experts across the company who ensure that the safety, comfort and health of farm animals is comprehensive.
The Smithfield statement did not mention its COVID-19 protocols, or reports of recent outbreaks at its Vernon facility.
In November, Smithfield Foods was fined $58,000 by the Division of Occupational Safety and Health of California, and another $47,000 in fines were issued to CitiStaff Solutions Inc. over the COVID-19 outbreak.
United Food and Commercial Workers 770 filed complaints with Cal-OSHA in May 2020, and called for the Farmer John plant to be shut down.
Smithfield representatives said then that the company had implemented a number of stringent new health protocols to protect against the virus.
A company spokesperson said Cal-OSHA “did not individually analyze how these individuals contracted COVID-19. Rather, the agency has taken the surprising position that every single person working at the plant who contracted COVID-19 caught the virus at work. The agency’s position completely rejects the clear evidence established by health experts that community spread exists.
“Smithfield diligently investigates every positive case among our workers, identifying every possible source of infection. We only wish Cal/OSHA had undertaken a similarly careful analysis, rather than jumping to the incomprehensible conclusion that any worker in the state who tests positive for COVID-19 must have been infected in the workplace,” the statement continued.
Activists from the group Direct Action Everywhere, who are organizing Monday’s demonstration, staged an attempted intervention at the plant in September, when 26 activists were arrested for attempting to shut down operations at the plant.
DXE’s Cassie King told City News Service that no such disruptive actions are planned for Monday. The volunteers will simply be lining the street outside the facility displaying their paper hearts.
The group is asking people to visit www.nomorefactoryfarms.com to sign a letter urging Gov. Gavin Newsom and the state Legislature to institute a moratorium on new factory farm construction in California.
They claim that in addition to the animal cruelty, factory farms “are ideal settings for pandemics and disease to mutate and spread rapidly, with animals crowded together by the many thousands, surrounded by feces and urine which makes them highly susceptible to viral and bacterial infections.”
Smithfield officials have accused the protest organizers of being a “a radical vegan group that has committed crimes from coast to coast.”
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