Protesters hold vigil outside Perdue Farms in Perry, questioning conditions inside

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PERRY, Georgia (41NBC/WMGT)- Rural America’s workforce is feeling the impact of coronavirus. Middle Georgia employees at factories and production plants are fearful of poor work conditions.

Janie Hokanson, an organizer from Middle Georgia Animal Save, says slaughterhouses and meat processing plants are major hot spots for the spread of COVID-19.

During the pandemic, employees at the Perdue Farms meat processing plant in Perry are required to clock-in.

“They are being forced to come to work because they are labeled as essential workers,” said Dee Spencer-Carr, USA Country Liaison Animal Save Moment.

Spencer-Carr says that employees at Perdue Farms are risking their lives on every shift because there are so many people in one space. She says a lot of the workers are minorities — mostly Latino.

“They’re focused to do a job they probably don’t want to do,” added the Liaison.

Spencer-Carr says in March, close to 50 employees walked out the Perry location over COVID-19 concerns.

According to the company, an employee tested positive for the virus. Perdue says the worker quarantined for 14 days with pay.

Spencer-Carr says that incident, along with witnessing workers speak out, gave her and others the push to do something.

Hokanson says to eliminate this problem, companies should transition to a plant-based system where factories and farmers focus on producing plant-based food. She says slaughterhouses aren’t necessary.

“You can get every essential nutrition and vitamin you need on a plant-based diet,” said Hokanson.

Hokanson says if more people boycott meat, the demand for the product will decrease, resulting in fewer employees working in unfit conditions.

We reached out to Perdue Farms for comment, and they released the following statement:

Perdue Farms responded swiftly to the threat of COVID-19 beginning in early March to protect and support out [sic] associates, including temperature checking, mask wearing, social distancing where possible, and installing temporary partitions between associates that are changed or cleaned frequently where social distancing isn’t possible, and many other efforts.

The CDC recently toured several Perdue Farms facilities in Maryland, Virginia, and Delaware, and provided reports highlighting the best practices the company has implemented to protect its workers, which are reflective of the safety efforts enacted across all of our operations. Less than one percent of Perdue associates in Perry, Georgia have tested positive for COVID-19.

“Our associates have been and always will be our first priority. We have implemented extensive safety measures to safeguard their wellbeing during COVID-19, and continue working with local, state, and federal health experts, including the CDC, to ensure we’re doing everything possible to protect their health,” said Andrea Staub, Senior Vice President of Corporate Communications for Perdue Farms. “As an industry deemed essential by the federal government, we remain committed to protecting our associates while continuing to produce safe, high-quality food to keep America fed.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has understandably raised many questions in communities around the country.  In addition to the safety measures we’ve put in place, we have hosted Town Hall-style webinars in the areas where we have operations, including Perry, to further facilitate an ongoing dialogue regarding COVID-19 with various local community leaders including pastors, healthcare professionals, elected officials, civic organizations, and more. Following the Perry webinar, George McCanless, President and CEO, United Way of Central Georgia, commented: “It was great to hear a different side to the story. Thank you for all you and the entire Perdue team are doing. Great companies are even more noticeable in times like this, and you all are certainly rising to the occasion.”

Additionally, Perdue Farms remains the industry leader in animal care, and was recently recognized by the Global Business Benchmark on Farm Animal Welfare for third consecutive year.

Perdue Farms respects the rights of individuals and organizations to peacefully protest.