why it happens and what dangers there are for those who eat meat


After hospitals and residences for the elderly, there is a third type of environment that has proven to be at high risk for coronavirus infection: slaughterhouses. It is a global phenomenon, from Europe to America, outbreaks have occurred in almost every country in the world. In Italy, in fact, the problem manifested itself to a lesser extent, but some episodes also occurred here: in Bari last month more than 70 employees of a meat processing company tested positive. In the other states the budget is far more serious. In Germany – where the epidemic has spread less than in other areas, almost a thousand workers in the sector have become infected, in France more than a hundred, and in the United States as many as 5,000 employees at 180 production plants, but according to some estimates, the spread would be even wider and would affect more than 10,000 people. And again in Canada, Australia, Spain, Ireland, more or less the same story: hundreds of workers involved in the slaughter and processing of infected meat.

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Scientists have tried to pinpoint the causes, but for the moment their conclusions – as we are used to seeing in the face of this new and still largely unknown virus – are provisional and mostly hypothetical. However, at least one answer is repeated by all the experts: the chances that the infection is due to contact with the meat of animals are almost non-existent. The virus is transmitted from one worker to another, it is a question of understanding where and why. And understanding it is not easy, because the slaughtering plants were organized already before the advent of Covid-19 according to fairly strict hygiene protocols, being places subject to fairly evident health risks, both for those who work there and for consumers who will then bring those meats in their kitchens and finally at the table. In all countries, slaughterhouses and processing plants are obliged to provide for the use of protections for all employees, gloves, masks, headphones, gowns. So how do you explain the thousands of infections around the world? Some think that it is the closed, humid and low temperature environment that promotes the transmission of the virus. In plants where cattle, pigs or poultry are slaughtered, cut and processed, work is generally carried out at close range, the physical effort is considerable and it is essential to speak very loudly, and moreover it is legitimate to imagine that often someone will take off the mask from the face to breathe and communicate better. Others point their suspicions on the rooms where employees change and wash, even there at close range and above all without protection. In Germany there are those who have speculated that the transmission may have taken place, more than in the workplace, outside, in the houses where the workers live: the German meat industry is able to guarantee low prices and high quality products employing low-cost workers, mainly immigrants who are brought from their countries, housed in common residences and transported to the factory all together on the same buses. According to this thesis, the sharing of non-working environments would therefore be the main reason for the infections.

In the United States, the multiplication of outbreaks in slaughterhouses risked jeopardizing the national food supply. In the country that certainly consumes the largest amount of meat in the world (first place for both per capita consumption, about 120 kilos per person per year, and for total quantity) and that in the steak and hamburger it sees almost an element of identity, something comparable to pasta for the Italians, many production plants have had to close. Until Donald Trump himself intervened, who resorted to the powers recognized by the Defense Production Act – the law that protects the vital productions for the nation – to sign an executive order that in fact forced companies to continue the activity despite the health hazards. The decision was highly contested and certainly did not help stop the spread of coronavirus in the United States.

However, the epidemic among slaughterhouse and food industry workers does not pose a direct threat to meat eaters. Covid-19 is contracted by the respiratory, non-alimentary route, cooking in any case eliminates any virus, and there is no scientific evidence of a possible resistance of the viral agents on the surfaces of a slice or a chicken or a sausage, at least not for the number of hours needed to get that slice or chicken or sausage from the factory where it was produced to the butcher’s counter. Eating meat may not be good for our health for other reasons, but it does not contract coronavirus.

Last updated: 07:44


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