'Free meat for a year' offered in JBS U.S. vaccine sweepstakes

FILE PHOTO: A healthcare worker prepares a Pfizer coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccination in Los Angeles

CHICAGO (Reuters) - Want free meat for a year? Get a COVID-19 shot.

Meatpacker JBS SA said on Thursday it will give away beef, pork and chicken for the next year to 50 U.S. families that participate in company-sponsored vaccination clinics over the coming weeks.

The Brazilian company's arm in the United States and Pilgrim's Pride, a U.S. chicken company mostly owned by JBS, came under fire last year as thousands of meatpacking workers fell sick with COVID-19. U.S. processing plants temporarily shut to contain outbreaks, tightening meat supplies and raising prices.

The companies said nearly 70% of their 66,000 U.S. employees are now fully vaccinated and that they hope the meat giveaways encourage residents in rural areas, not just employees, around their facilities to get shots.

"We've made great progress, and our vaccination rates are much higher than the rates in the communities that we call home," said Andre Nogueira, JBS USA chief executive.

The contest is the latest incentive being offered by companies and government officials to win over the vaccine hesitant. Around the world, perks from live chickens to marijuana are available to those who take the shot.

In the United States, President Joe Biden will likely miss a goal for 70% of adults to receive at least one COVID-19 vaccine by July 4, officials said.

The first round of JBS's clinics starts on Saturday in Greeley, Colorado, where the company operates a massive beef plant. Last year, six of the facility's workers died of COVID-19 and nearly 300 were infected, according to state data.

There was a "failure of many meat processors to adequately protect their workers from COVID-19, resulting in tens of thousands of cases and hundreds of deaths," U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow said at a hearing on Wednesday about the beef market.

(Reporting by Tom Polansek; editing by Jonathan Oatis)