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 …