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.
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
Companion bills would prevent faster line speeds
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.
Covid cases in meatpacking counties were 10 times those in other rural counties
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.
North Carolina records show scope of pandemic in meat plants
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)
Meat plants tied to 6-8 percent of early Covid-19 cases
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.
Fewer sows suggests producers are exiting hog business
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.
Senate bill would block faster line speeds at meat plants during pandemic
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 …
Hog backlog forecast to rise to 2.5 million head by year’s end
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."
Coronavirus adds stress to agricultural finances
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)
Meat plants should slow the line, separate workers, say unions
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)
How did Europe avoid a Covid-19 crisis at its meatpacking plants?
In the United States, Covid-19 has been sweeping through meatpacking plants, infecting more than 24,000 workers and killing at least 92 of them. Those figures are more than nine-times larger than at meat plants in Europe, though the U.S. industry has only a third more workers. Bridget Huber explains how Europe largely avoided the crisis sweeping the U.S. industry in FERN's latest story. (No paywall)
Beef and pork exports run ahead of 2019 pace despite pandemic
Exports of U.S.-grown pork and beef are flowing at a higher volume than in 2019, with a sales value of $4.86 billion through April. Strong meat exports are a sign that the United States is a reliable supplier worldwide despite coronavirus disruptions in meatpacking plants, said Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue on Thursday. (No paywall)
Coalition calls for ‘corporate’ meat boycott to improve working conditions
Thanks to falling production and rising prices, Americans are expected to eat less meat this year than last. But a coalition of groups led by the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) wants Americans to cut back even further, calling for a boycott on "corporate" meat until working conditions in meatpacking plants improve. (No paywall)
Most meat plants will be on line this week despite coronavirus, says Perdue
Although beef and pork slaughter plants ran at less than three-fourths capacity last week, Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue says, "We think most of our facilities will be back on line" by the end of this week. That would account for as much as 85 percent of U.S. meat-processing capacity. Fourteen beef, pork and poultry plants resumed operation last week, according to the USDA. Other tallies showed a handful of plants still shut down.(No paywall)
With industrial meat hobbled, small producers are seeing a surge in sales. Can it last?
With industrial meat operations struggling to stay open, consumers are turning in droves to smaller producers to keep them in beef, pork, chicken and lamb, as Stephen R. Miller reports in FERN's latest story, published with HuffPost. Miller's story takes a close look at one operation, SkyPilot Farm in Longmont, Colorado, which is run by Chloe Johnson and her husband Craig Scariot. Since the outbreak, sales at SkyPilot have increased about 400 percent and the customer base has tripled.(No paywall)
Biden calls meatpacking plant conditions ‘inhumane and downright immoral’
Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden joined a chorus of voices demanding stronger workplace protections for meatpacking workers at a virtual town hall on Monday. Workers – falling ill from covid-19 – deserve a safer workplace, higher pay, and immigration protections, lawmakers …
Three pork plants are top U.S. priority for reopening, says Peterson
The Trump administration's top meat-industry priority is reopening three pork plants, now shuttered due to coronavirus outbreaks, that account for 12 percent of U.S. hog slaughter, said the House Agriculture Committee chairman on Wednesday. Labor and public officials said meat production will not revive nationwide unless workers feel safe in the processing plants. (No paywall)
‘The workers are being sacrificed’
new FERN investigation, published Friday in collaboration with Mother Jones, reporters Esther Honig and Ted Genoways tell the stories of workers in America's meatpacking plants who are facing high rates of Covid-19 — and of the industry's chilling disregard for its workforce. (No paywall)