coronavirus pandemic

Pandemic casts shadow on sunny cotton outlook

Global demand for cotton would reach an all-time high this year, thanks to the economic resurgence from the pandemic that has driven cotton prices to their highest level in a decade, said the National Cotton Council on Sunday. Despite the sunny outlook, prospects for this year's crop are clouded by rising production costs, supply chain disruptions and uncertainties about future impacts of Covid-19.

Food insecurity rose sharply among Native Americans during pandemic, report says

Nearly half of Native American and Alaska Native households experienced food insecurity during the Covid-19 pandemic, according to a new report from the Native American Agriculture Fund, The Indigenous Food and Agriculture Initiative and the Food Research & Action Center. The report urged “putting Tribal governments in the driver’s seat of feeding people” to create a more resilient food system.

Bill would add protections for meatpacking workers, target industry’s monopolistic practices

A bill introduced in the Senate this week would improve working conditions and whistleblower protections for meatpacking workers while also cracking down on monopolistic practices in the industry. Sen. Cory Booker, a New Jersey Democrat, introduced the Protecting America’s Meatpacking Workers Act on Tuesday. In a press release, he called it a “critical piece in transforming our food system into one that is rooted in resilience, fairness, and justice.” (No paywall)

Vaccination rule applauded by unions at meat plants

The Labor Department requirement that large companies vaccinate or test their workers for Covid-19 is a step toward greater worker safety at slaughterhouses and other food processing plants, said labor unions on Thursday. The emergency temporary standard (ETS) sets a Jan. 4 deadline for employees to be fully vaccinated but does not apply to employees who work alone, from home, or exclusively outdoors.

USDA: Strong U.S. economy but falling crop prices in 2022

The red-hot U.S. recovery from the pandemic, with the fastest economic growth rate since 1984, will moderate to a still-strong 3.5 percent in 2022, said the USDA in its first look at the agricultural economy in the new year. Farm-gate prices for corn, soybeans, wheat and cotton, the four most widely planted crops, were projected to decline as production, suppressed by the pandemic, catches up with demand.

Covid-19 cases, deaths among meatpacking workers three times worse than thought

Five large meatpackers fell staggeringly short of their duty to protect their workers during the pandemic, with at least 269 deaths and at least 59,000 infections from Covid-19 among their employees — roughly three times more than thought — said Rep. James Clyburn, chairman of the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis on Wednesday. (No paywall)

House panel asks meatpackers how many Covid-19 infections and deaths they had at their plants

The toll the coronavirus has taken on the meatpacking industry may be greater than currently thought, said a House panel on Wednesday in asking Cargill and National Beef, two of the largest U.S. meat processors, to disclose how many of their workers had contracted Covid-19 and how many had died. (No paywall)

Food insecurity grows by a third due to pandemic

Some 1.2 billion people do not get enough to eat to sustain a healthy and active lifestyle in 76 countries monitored by the USDA for food insecurity, an increase of 291 million people, or 32 percent, caused by the pandemic. "The economies of the countries ... sharply contracted in 2020 due to the widespread pandemic, resulting lockdowns and other controls impacting business activity, employment and incomes," said the annual International Food Security Assessment.

ERS: Nearly $58 billion to farmers in pandemic year

When crop insurance indemnities and unemployment benefits are counted, the government sent $57.7 billion to farm operations and farm households in 2020, while the pandemic sent the U.S. economy into recession, said a working paper by USDA economists. It was the highest estimate yet of federal assistance to farmers last year and the most inclusive.

USDA aid for producers who culled pigs and poultry during pandemic

Producers who were forced to destroy pigs, chickens, and turkeys last year due to the pandemic are eligible for federal compensation ranging from 32 cents per chick to $258.57 for a heavyweight hog, said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack on Tuesday. The new Pandemic Livestock Indemnity Program is the latest in coronavirus relief programs that have paid $24.3 billion to farmers since May 2020.

In New York City, gig workers facing food insecurity are fighting back

Demand for couriers grew during the pandemic, yet their conditions only deteriorated. Lockdowns cut into their hours, leaving many workers struggling to pay bills and feed families. Eighty percent of gig workers surveyed in the summer of 2020 by the University of California, Los Angeles, Labor Center said they weren’t making enough to meet household expenses. A third did not have enough for groceries.(No paywall)

USDA announces major expansion of emergency food networks

The USDA announced on Friday that it will invest up to $1 billion to expand emergency food networks, bolstering the ability of food banks and local organizations to serve in-need communities. 

SNAP enrollment running 5 million above pre-pandemic levels

Some 42 million people received food stamps according to the latest count by the government, roughly 5 million people, or 14 percent, more than before the pandemic took hold in March 2020. Congress temporarily increased benefits 15 percent in response to the pandemic, a boost that is set to expire Sept. 30.

DOJ: Tyson was not directed by federal government to continue pandemic production

The federal government never instructed Tyson Foods and other meatpackers to keep their plants open during the early months of the pandemic, according to the Department of Justice in a recent filing in a federal appeals case. Experts say the brief, along with others filed in the case, is a good sign for the plaintiffs, the relatives of four Tyson workers in Waterloo, Iowa, who died of Covid-19 last spring. It is also likely to have broad implications for other Covid-related lawsuits filed by meatpacking workers around the country. (No paywall)

Ethanol blend rate sets record amid pandemic slump in usage

The average gallon of gasoline sold during 2020 was 10.23 percent ethanol, the highest blend rate ever, said the Renewable Fuels Association. At the same time, 12.63 billion gallons of the biofuel were mixed into gasoline, the smallest amount in 11 years, declining in tandem with the reduction in travel and fuel sales that accompanied the pandemic, said the trade group.

Economic recovery will be stronger than expected, says CBO

The U.S. economy will grow by a robust 4.6 percent this year — its fastest pace since 1999 — as the country rebounds from the coronavirus pandemic and the accompanying economic contraction, said the CBO on Monday. Recovery began in mid-2020, sooner than expected, and has also been stronger than …

OSHA strengthens workplace guidelines against Covid-19

The Labor Department, in issuing stronger worker-safety guidelines  called on employers to conduct a hazard analysis and implement measures to limit the spread of the coronavirus on the job. The recommendations include the use of face masks and reconfiguring work spaces so workers are at least six feet apart.

Biden: U.S. will consider emergency rule to protect workers from coronavirus

The government's worker-safety agency "has been prevented from using its full range of tools to protect workers from Covid-19," said President-elect Biden on the 50th anniversary of creation of the Occupational Safety and Health Act. "The number of OSHA inspectors is at its lowest level since 1975, while millions of essential workers are working to keep the country functioning through the pandemic."

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