Covid-19

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.

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.

Few employees out of compliance, as USDA vaccination rate rises

Seven of every eight USDA employees are partially or fully vaccinated against Covid-19, and there are few holdouts against President Biden's order to get vaccinated or seek a waiver, said the White House on Thursday. Slightly more than 2,000 of the USDA's 92,000 employees have not responded to the presidential directive, according to White House data.

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)

USDA vaccination rate is lowest in federal government

Six of every seven USDA employees are partially or fully vaccinated against Covid-19 and the USDA says it expects that in the weeks ahead more will get vaccinated in compliance with the federal mandate. All the same, the USDA's vaccination rate of 86.1 percent was the lowest among the 15 federal departments, according to the White House.

‘Significant progress’ in Covid-19 vaccinations at USDA

USDA "critical services" will not be disrupted by the Biden administration mandate for federal workers to be vaccinated against Covid-19, said the department on Monday as the deadline passed for inoculations. Farm and livestock groups said earlier this month the mandate might leave the USDA short of meat inspectors or staff at its local offices.

Covid-19 is worst in persistently poor rural counties

Throughout the pandemic, the highest Covid-19 case rates and the lowest vaccination rates in the country have been found in persistently poor rural counties, the USDA said Wednesday in its annual Rural America at a Glance report. Those counties have also had low unemployment rates, suggesting residents continued to work despite the risk of infection by the coronavirus, said the report.

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 puts into action its pledge to expand meat industry capacity

Three months ago, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said the USDA would commit $500 million to expand meat and poultry processing capacity and create a more competitive livestock market. "I believe it is going to leverage literally billions of dollars in investment from investors and local governments," said Vilsack at a meat locker plant in Council Bluffs, Iowa.

Covid is killing rural Americans at twice the rate of urbanites

Rural Americans are dying of Covid at more than twice the rate of their urban counterparts — a divide that health experts say is likely to widen as access to medical care shrinks for a population that tends to be older, sicker, heavier, poorer, and less vaccinated. (No paywall)

ERS report: Despite pandemic, U.S. food insecurity remained flat in 2020

One in 10 U.S. households were food insecure in 2020, the same level as a year earlier, the USDA's Economic Research Service reported Wednesday. The flat rate of food insecurity provided evidence that government and charitable programs during the Covid-19 pandemic tempered a rise in hunger despite the deep recession.

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