Food insecurity rises among disabled people, but solutions exist
Even before Covid-19 hit, disabled people were at greater risk of food insecurity because of higher rates of unemployment, lower earnings, and transportation and accessibility barriers. The pandemic only exacerbated these disparities. In 2020, disabled adults were twice as likely to be food insecure as adults without disabilities.
After a year of pandemic, food system workers still face risks
Although media reports and public data about Covid-19 cases among food system workers dropped off significantly after a first wave of outbreaks last spring, the virus quietly returned in waves at dozens of plants last year, writes Leah Douglas in FERN's latest story. No paywall
Even in economic downturn, tropical forest losses climb
During the first months of the coronavirus pandemic, as economic activity ground to a virtual standstill, Mother Nature flirted with recovery. With so many factories closed and far fewer vehicles on the road, Greenhouse gas emissions plummeted. Air and water quality temporarily improved. Overall, the global economy shrank by roughly 4 percent in 2020, and yet one disturbing trend continued apace: forest destruction worldwide, largely as a result of agriculture. No paywall
Covid-19 rates in meatpacking counties now mirror other rural counties
Rural counties dominated by meatpacking plants endured their second surge in coronavirus cases during this winter but the latest wave "does not appear to be driven by new outbreaks in the meatpacking industry," said the USDA. "Meatpacking-dependent counties have maintained an almost identical pattern to other rural counties for the last seven months."
Smithfield pork plant in LA faces rolling Covid-19 outbreak
A coronavirus outbreak at the Farmer John pork processing plant in Los Angeles County that began nearly a year ago has been the focus of two state investigations. Cases at the Smithfield Foods-owned plant have more than doubled — with over 300 cases reported in January alone — as the county has become a Covid-19 epicenter, Leah Douglas and Georgia Gee report in FERN's latest story, produced in collaboration with the Covid-19 Reporting Project.
Headquarters at home for Vilsack
Like millions of Americans, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack is working from home. "I'm still in Iowa," he told reporters on Thursday. "I just got my second shot" of coronavirus vaccine.
U.S. to donate masks to food banks and pantries
The government will distribute more than 25 million washable face masks through community health centers and the food bank network over the next three months, announced the White House on Wednesday.
House panel to vote on SNAP extension and minority farmer debt relief
Following President Biden's lead, the chairman of the House Agriculture Committee proposed an extension until Sept. 30 of the temporary 15 percent increase in SNAP benefits on Tuesday. Chairman David Scott also included a sweeping proposal for the government to pay off USDA loans and USDA-guaranteed loans held by socially disadvantaged farmers "to put our Black farmers in a better position" after decades of discrimination. No paywall
Pandemic leads to highest SNAP enrollment in three years
Food stamp enrollment has surged by 6 million people since the pandemic hit the United States, said the USDA on Wednesday in its first update of SNAP participation in months. Some 42.9 million people received food stamps at latest count, the highest number since October 2017.
USDA to allocate nearly $2 billion in coronavirus aid to contract growers
Contract growers of hogs, poultry and eggs are eligible for an estimated $1.98 billion in coronavirus aid, announced the USDA. The payments, along with a “top up” of aid to hog farmers, are the first to flow from the $13 billion earmarked for agricultural assistance in the pandemic relief bill …
Fruit and vegetable growers face coronavirus squeeze
With Americans spending more of their food dollars at the supermarket, the specialty crop sector will continue to adapt to the pandemic and the loss of food-service sales in the new year, said agricultural lender CoBank. "Steep financial losses from the loss of food service contracts will ultimately result in the rationalization of some processing assets and production acreage."
Covid cases in meatpacking counties were 10 times those in other rural counties
During the first wave of the coronavirus pandemic, rural meatpacking counties had infection rates 10 times higher than rates in other rural counties, said the USDA on Thursday. And despite improvements, the Covid-19 rate in the 49 U.S. counties that rely on meat plants for jobs remains somewhat higher than in the rest of rural America as the disease surges again.
Ag and ethanol groups ask Biden for help at home and overseas
The ethanol industry, which says it has lost $3.8 billion in sales since March, is looking to the Biden administration for relief at the same time that farm groups want the new president to resolve the trade war with China. But a Purdue University professor said it was unlikely Biden would immediately undertake broad-scale trade reform, pointing out that "he has other priorities that take precedence."
Coronavirus package boosts SNAP benefits by 15 percent
A bipartisan Senate coronavirus relief package would increase SNAP benefits by 15 percent through April and provide additional funding for WIC and food donations to food banks, according to a summary released on Wednesday.
USDA should push for rural broadband, worker safety, say former ag secretaries
While the pandemic and climate change will be at the top of the agenda in the Biden administration, the USDA should pursue full access to broadband service in rural America, said three former agriculture secretaries on Tuesday. One of them, Mike Espy, also said the USDA should refuse to buy products from meat processors who fail to protect workers from the coronavirus.
Coronavirus outbreaks at two California chicken plants
Meat processor Foster Farms temporarily closed a poultry processing plant for deep cleaning following a coronavirus outbreak at the facility in Fresno, California. In the past two weeks, 193 of the 1,400 employees at the plant tested positive for Covid-19, reported the Fresno Bee. Meanwhile, …
Tyson orders investigation of ‘betting on Covid’ allegations
Former attorney general Eric Holder will lead an independent investigation into allegations that managers of a Tyson Foods hog plant in Waterloo, Iowa, ran a betting pool on how many employees would become ill with Covid-19, said the meat processor on Thursday.
USDA moves its Outlook Forum online
Due to the pandemic and limits on public gatherings, the annual Agricultural Outlook Forum will be held online in 2021, said the USDA on Wednesday. The data-filled event includes the first USDA estimate of the year of farm income and early projections of crop and livestock production.
Presidential election should be followed by a national food strategy, says report
The coronavirus pandemic, which has disrupted food supplies and heightened food insecurity, should be the impetus for unified oversight of the food system, now splintered among dozens of regulatory agencies, said an "urgent call" for action from groups at the Harvard and Vermont law schools on Thursday.