On Thursday, as part of an administration initiative to increase independent meat processing capacity, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced $38 million in grants to processors and $77 million to intermediary lenders to finance the start-up, expansion, or operation of independent processing facilities. The result will be a stronger food supply chain and more competition in the meat processing sector, said the administration.
A month after the USDA proposed new rules to make school meals healthier, hundreds of school nutrition directors will come to Washington next week to tell lawmakers to reject the stricter standards. The School Nutrition Association, which represents school food workers nationwide, argues that stricter rules will be difficult for schools to meet, as they still face labor shortages and supply chain disruptions due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the war in Ukraine, and the avian flu epidemic. (No paywall)
President Biden urged the Senate to vote by the end of the week to avert a nationwide rail freight shutdown that would wound the U.S. economy. On a bipartisan roll call, the House passed legislation on Wednesday to impose a contract on railroad labor unions. The so-called tentative agreement was reached in negotiations aided by the administration.
The pandemic exposed the weaknesses of a food system built around large-volume production and national supply chains, said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack on Wednesday. As a remedy, he said, the USDA would help independent processors start up or expand their operations and encourage local marketing.
Although the White House blames big meatpackers for driving up food prices, the real culprits are higher costs and labor shortages all along the supply chain, said a pork industry report on Wednesday. Four packers control 65 percent of hog slaughter in the United States, but the industry is less concentrated than it was five years ago.
Nine out of every 10 schools are providing meals for free to all students under USDA waivers that are an unexpected issue in congressional budget negotiations this week. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell is a strong opponent of extending the waivers, issued to help schools cope with the pandemic, into the 2022-23 school year.
The pandemic has given the idea of agricultural collectives a boost—in some instances, a gigantic boost. In 2020, when the coronavirus disrupted industrial food systems, causing widespread backlogs and shortages, local co-ops, farm collectives, food hubs, and other distribution projects found fresh relevance. Some food hubs reported revenue increases as high as 500 percent, according to a May 2021 report from the Wallace Center, a nonprofit that supports community food and farming solutions.(No paywall)
The Biden administration will provide up to $1 billion in loan guarantees to expand capacity "in the middle of the food supply chain," with the end result of fairer prices for farmers and more consumer access to healthier foods, said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack on Thursday.
School food directors overwhelmingly say they have trouble acquiring nutritious foods and meal supplies due to supply chain disruptions, according to a survey released by the School Nutrition Association (SNA) on Wednesday. The SNA said the results underscored the need for regulatory relief and increased funding from the USDA for the upcoming 2022/23 school year.
The two largest U.S. supermarket chains, the leading grocery wholesaler and the No. 1 chicken processor are among nine companies ordered by the Federal Trade Commission to turn over detailed information for its study of "empty shelves and sky-high prices." The commission said it would investigate the causes of supply chain disruptions and the hardships imposed on consumers. No paywall
Bakers are experiencing a "soybean oil supply crisis" of soaring prices and limited availability due in part to the land rush of investors into renewable diesel fuel, said an Ohio baking executive on Wednesday. Soy oil is a key ingredient in baked goods as well as the feedstock for making renewable diesel.
As food prices continue to rise, consumers around the country are being forced to adjust their habits and aid agencies are ramping up support. Overall, food prices were 4.6 percent higher in September than a year ago, driven largely by surging prices for meat, poultry and fish, which were up 10.4 percent, according to the Consumer Price Index.
The USDA and the FDA have agreed that the USDA can use its authority under the Defense Production Act to tell foodmakers, including fruit and vegetable processors, to operate during a coronavirus outbreak at their facilities. The directions could override decisions by state or local health officials. (No paywall)
Three packing plants that account for 12 percent of U.S. hog slaughter are slowly resuming production this week after coronavirus shutdowns, potentially loosening a bottleneck among meat processors that is tightening supplies and raising prices at the grocery store. "I think we've turned the corner" on meat shortages, said Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue. (No paywall)
The global pandemic feels distant to 31-year-old Manuel Alejandro Lopez Delgado in his town of some 4,000 people in the state of Sinaloa, along the Gulf of California. There’s been just one confirmed case of coronavirus in the state, and that was four hours away, in the city of Culiacan. But in the next two weeks, Lopez, along with three other workers from his town, will be traveling to the U.S. to work in Washington State. The three-day bus journey will take them to the epicenter of the Covid-19 crisis in America.(No paywall)
Like other grocery stores in New York City, the Park Slope Food Co-op, in Brooklyn, is out of hand sanitizer. But even with 17,000 members and weekly sales of $1.23 million, shelves at one of the nation’s oldest and largest food co-ops are nearly full. “We got the hang of it very quickly after the initial enormous jolt of extra purchases hit 15 days ago,” Joe Holtz, the co-op’s general manager and co-founder, said late last week. (No paywall)
Although U.S. shoppers concerned about the coronavirus pandemic have largely emptied stores of paper products and household cleaning supplies, so far most other grocery aisles remain stocked. Still, as the virus spreads across the U.S., it could expose other weaknesses in our food supply chain, experts say. (No paywall)