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
The USDA would be barred from allowing faster line speeds at hog and poultry slaughter plants during the pandemic under companion bills filed in the House and Senate on Thursday. Sponsors said the legislation would protect worker safety.
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.
During the early months of the Covid-19 pandemic, the outbreak was far worse at several North Carolina meatpacking plants than was previously known and had spread to previously undisclosed facilities, documents released in a public records request show. "At the height of the first wave of the Covid-19 pandemic, the number of positive cases at 10 North Carolina meatpacking plants was 75 percent higher than reported publicly," according to FERN's latest story. (No paywall)
Livestock processing plants "may act as transmission vectors" for spreading the coronavirus, said researchers who estimated the plants were associated with from 6 to 8 percent of Covid-19 cases nationwide during the early months of the pandemic. "Ensuring both public health and robust essential supply chains may require an increase in meatpacking oversight and potentially a shift toward more decentralized, smaller-scale meat production," said the researchers in a paper appearing in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Some hog farmers are leaving the business in the face of low market prices and coronavirus slowdowns at packing plants, said two pork industry analysts on Thursday. As evidence, they pointed to a USDA report showing that there are fewer sows on U.S. farms this fall than a year ago.
In the name of worker safety, seven Democratic senators introduced a bill on Tuesday to block the USDA from allowing faster line speeds at meat plants during the pandemic and to suspend line-speed waivers it already has issued. Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey said workers “are crowded into …
Coronavirus safeguards are constraining slaughter capacity at U.S. pork plants, causing the hog backlog to more than double to 2.5 million head by the end of this year, said a pork industry analyst on Monday. Economist Steve Meyer said the pandemic was "by far, the worst financial disaster ever for American hog farmers, who already were in a weakened financial position due to two years of trade retaliation."
The agricultural sector will struggle over the next year because of the coronavirus pandemic, leading some farmers to quit or be forced out of business, said economist Allen Featherstone in a think tank paper released on Monday. (No paywall)
The government should order meatpackers to slow the work pace at typically crowded processing plants and separate workers to reduce the risk of coronavirus outbreaks, said two labor unions on Wednesday. During a House hearing, the president of one of the unions said that "some responsible employers, like Cargill and Safeway, have done what is right," while companies such as Amazon, Walmart, and Kroger have not. (No paywall)