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JBS U.S. units to adopt pandemic response plans after COVID outbreaks

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FILE PHOTO: Outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Greeley, Colorado
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By Daniel Wiessner

(Reuters) - Subsidiaries of meat processor JBS USA LLC have agreed to implement infectious disease preparedness plans at seven U.S. plants, in the wake of a U.S. congressional report finding that the industry largely failed to prevent the spread of COVID-19 among workers.

The agreement was announced on Friday by the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), which said the companies will work with teams of outside experts to develop and implement new policies on engineering, ventilation, visitor screening, cleaning, and personal protective equipment.

OSHA said the agreement involves plants in six states operated by JBS units Swift Beef Co, Swift Pork Co, JBS Souderton Inc and JBS Green Bay Inc.

JBS USA, the subsidiary of Brazil's JBS SA, said in a statement that the plans it is developing will build on a "COVID-19 playbook" the company has already adopted that lays out best practices and provides guidance to plant operators.

In 2020, a total of seven workers at two JBS facilities in Colorado and Wisconsin died from COVID-19 and nearly 650 employees tested positive for the virus.

OSHA on Friday said it had found that the facilities failed to take steps to protect workers and levied $14,502 in fines.

A Reuters analysis of public data published in January found that nearly 90% of U.S. processing plants owned by JBS and four other major meat companies had COVID-19 cases in 2020 and early 2021, and that 269 workers had died during that period.

John Rainwater, an OSHA official in Dallas, Texas, said in a statement that the agency will ensure the agreement with JBS is enforced to prevent mass outbreaks from happening again.

The announcement comes two weeks after a U.S. House of Representatives panel released a report saying JBS and other large meat processors had failed to adopt measures to stem the spread of COVID-19.

(Reporting by Daniel Wiessner in Albany, New York, Editing by Alexia Garamfalvi)