Covid-19

After a decade of decline, WIC participation rose during pandemic

The number of children participating in the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) increased by 8.7 percent during the first two years of the Covid-19 pandemic, according to a report released on Wednesday by the Food Research & Action Center.

USDA awards $671 million for pandemic payments to frontline workers

Fourteen nonprofit organizations and the Cherokee Nation will distribute $671 million in pandemic payments of $600 per person to farmworkers, meatpacking employees and frontline grocery workers, said the Agriculture Department on Tuesday.

Food insecurity rises 10 percent in low- and middle-income countries

Nearly one-third of the people in 77 low- and middle-income countries are food insecure, meaning they lack consistent access to enough food for a healthy and active lifestyle, said an annual USDA report. The 9.8-percent increase to 1.3 billion people this year included 41.7 million affected by higher food, fuel and fertilizer costs attributed to Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

Pandemic aid helped families’ nutrition and well-being — report

The temporary increases in federal aid during the Covid-19 pandemic had a “highly positive impact on overall family well-being” and made it easier for low-income families to afford sufficient and healthy food, according to two reports released on Tuesday by Hunger Free America. But as these supports were gradually withdrawn, respondents reported skipping meals and struggling to feed their families.

Will a state-level push for free school meals spur federal action?

When the government made school meals temporarily free to virtually all public school students in 2020, the intent was to buffer children and families from the spike in hunger and economic hardship caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. It also inadvertently turned out to be a pilot project for something anti-hunger groups had been pushing for years: making school food free, permanently, for all public school students, regardless of income. (No paywall)

Record subsidies but weaker ag sector during pandemic year

Farmers faced higher expenses and earned less money from their crops and livestock than initially expected in 2020, due to market disruptions caused by the pandemic, said a USDA Covid-19 working paper. By many standards, such as debt-to-asset ratio, the financial strength of the sector softened in 2020, despite $45.7 billion in federal subsidies — the largest ever — said USDA economists.

Pandemic amplified global rise in food insecurity

More and more people were going hungry or lacking reliable access to food even before Covid-19 hit in 2020, and "the main effect of the pandemic was to sharply increase the deteriorating trend in food security" in low- and middle-income nations, said an Iowa think tank. "Most of the increase in the number of food-insecure people from Covid-19 in 2020 was driven by large Asian countries, particularly India, Bangladesh and Pakistan."

USDA boosts funding for pandemic hog payments

Hog farmers who sold slaughter pigs at unduly low prices during the early months of the pandemic will receive an estimated $62.8 million in the coming weeks, nearly $13 million more than initially expected, said the Agriculture Department on Tuesday. The USDA increased funding for the Spot Market Hog Pandemic Program (SMHPP) to eliminate the possibility of pro-rated payments.

Slow growth in organic food sales as pandemic fades

After surging nearly 13 percent during the eat-at-home early days of the pandemic, sales of organic food rose by less than 2 percent in 2021, as Americans abandoned pantry loading, said the Organic Trade Association on Thursday. Sales of organic food totaled $57.5 billion last year, a $1 billion increase from 2020.

Meatpackers drafted Trump order on meat plants during Covid-19

Facing pressure from local health officials over conditions in their plants, meatpacking companies "drafted and pitched an executive order to the Trump White House" to keep slaughterhouses open during the first months of the Covid-19 pandemic, said a congressional staff report on Thursday. When President Trump issued an order that adopted the industry position, meatpackers exaggerated its scope.

Study: Public had fewer fears than leaders did of meat shortages

In April 2020, when outbreaks of Covid-19 among slaughterhouse workers slowed U.S. meat production, the chairman of Tyson Foods said in full-page advertisements, "The supply chain is breaking." Two days later, President Trump signed an executive order to keep processing plants open during the pandemic. In retrospect, the meat supply chain was strained, but not broken, and production recovered quickly, said a team of economists in the journal Meat Science.

Biden pledges to ‘combat hunger and improve nutrition for every American’

In a White House video, President Biden said on Wednesday that the administration would “lay out our plan to combat hunger and improve nutrition for every American” at the hunger, nutrition, and health conference set for September. More than 10 percent of Americans were food insecure and hunger rates spiked during the early months of the pandemic.

Global tally of acute food insecurity rises 26 percent

Around 193 million people in 53 countries and territories experienced acute food insecurity at crisis or worse levels in 2021, an increase of 40 million from the previous year. “The situation is expected to worsen in 2022,” said a report by the Global Network Against Food Crises on Wednesday.

Amazon, Starbucks make workers’ rights group’s ‘Dirty Dozen’

By disregarding the health and safety of their employees, some of the most prominent companies in the food industry have created situations that led to workers being injured or killed on the job, according to a new report by the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health (National COSH), an advocacy group.(No paywall)

Covid-19 public health emergency extension keeps SNAP benefits boost in place

The Biden administration extended the Covid-19 public health emergency on Wednesday, keeping increased nutrition benefits for millions of families in place for the coming months.

With emergency SNAP benefits ending, a ‘hunger cliff’ looms

"Anti-hunger advocates worry that the nation may be approaching a 'hunger cliff,' as some states are ending emergency SNAP benefits even as demand at food pantries—and Covid case numbers—are rising again," writes Bridget Huber in FERN's latest story.

‘Spot market’ hog payments may be pro-rated

Hog farmers will have an additional two weeks, until April 29, to apply for federal payments to offset the pandemic-depressed prices offered by packers on the cash market during the summer of 2020, said the Agriculture Department on Thursday.

USDA pauses vaccination drive

The USDA will not enforce the White House order for federal employees to be vaccinated against Covid-19 while a court appeal is pending, said a spokesman on Monday. Last week, a federal judge in Texas issued an injunction against the order to get vaccinated or obtain a waiver.

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