Foreign-born workers are an essential part of the U.S. food supply chain, and if the nation wants to stabilize food prices, it’s going to need a lot more of them, according to new research released this week by the American Immigration Council. The group, which advocates for immigrants throughout the U.S., found that ag employers are struggling to retain enough workers amid a national labor crisis that is fueling higher prices at grocery stores.
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)
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced a new $700 million grant program to provide direct financial relief to U.S. farm and meatpacking workers hit hard by Covid-19. But it was unclear whether undocumented immigrants, who make up roughly half of all farmworkers and nearly a quarter of meatpacking workers, would be eligible.
The largest U.S. meat processor, Tyson Foods, said on Tuesday that all of its 139,000 employees must be fully vaccinated against the coronavirus by Nov. 1, with a proposed $200 "thank you" for to frontline workers for compliance. "We do not take this decision lightly," said chief executive Donnie King in a memo. "We have spent months encouraging our team members to get vaccinated – today under half of our team members are."
As the Covid-19 vaccine becomes more widely available, the workers who pick, pack, process, sell, and serve our food have been placed in a range of vaccination priority groups. With FERN's new map, you can search to see where these workers are currently eligible to be vaccinated and, where they're not, when they will become eligible. (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.
The government's worker-safety agency "has been prevented from using its full range of tools to protect workers from Covid-19," said President-elect Biden on the 50th anniversary of creation of the Occupational Safety and Health Act. "The number of OSHA inspectors is at its lowest level since 1975, while millions of essential workers are working to keep the country functioning through the pandemic."
Hog farmers struggled with a coronavirus-caused backlog of market-ready hogs that peaked at 3.5 million head at the end of May, forcing them to cull some and slowing weight gain on others. The backlog remains large, but Purdue economist Jayson Lusk says farmers may see "possibly elevated hog prices" by the end of the year as the hog supply shrinks.
This past spring, as meatpacking plants across the nation quickly became invisible hotspots for Covid-19, a group of young adults whose parents work at the massive Smithfield Foods pork processing plant in Crete, Nebraska, launched a series of protests that were unprecedented in an industry that likes to keep a low profile, as Esther Honig and Mary Anne Andrei report in FERN's latest story, a multimedia partnership with Latino USA.(No paywall)
As of May 31, more than 16,000 meat and poultry processing workers in 23 states had contracted Covid-19, and 86 had died of the disease, said a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released Tuesday. Nearly 90 percent of the affected workers were identified as Hispanic, Black, or Asian. According to more up-to-date data, however, the numbers for infected and deceased workers are actually much higher. (No paywall)
A federal judge handed a victory late Friday to animal-welfare advocates when he declared that much of North Carolina’s ag-gag law violated the First Amendment’s free-speech provisions. U.S. District Court Judge Thomas D. Schroeder’s ruling could also help employees who are trying to expose slaughterhouses that put their workforces at risk for Covid-19 infection, according to an attorney for the plaintiffs.(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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
As many as 18 percent of workers in meat and poultry plants are infected with the coronavirus in Iowa and South Dakota, while Pennsylvania and Nebraska account for one-quarter of the Covid-19 cases nationwide, said CDC scientists and state public health officials. The CDC released the report as Smithfield Foods, one of the giants of the meat industry, began to reopen a hog plant that was a coronavirus hot spot three weeks ago.(No paywall)
While declaring there is plenty of meat in America, President Trump signed an executive order on Tuesday “to ensure that meat and poultry processors continue operations” during the coronavirus pandemic, overriding state officials worried about hot spots for the virus. Cattle and hog …