Feds investigating after H-2A worker died of Covid-19 complications at a Texas potato plant

Marco Antonio Galvan Gomez, a 48-year-old husband and father from Guanajuato, Mexico, had worked eight years on a seasonal visa at Larsen Farms, one of the biggest potato producers in the nation, when he died of complications related to Covid-19 on July 20. He had spent the previous 12 days struggling to keep working despite suffering from fever, aches and shortness of breath; Larsen officials denied his request to return home to Mexico, and Galvan got no medical treatment from local health officials, according to FERN's latest story, published with Texas Observer. (No paywall)

At poultry plants allowed to run faster processing lines, a greater risk of Covid-19

Forty percent of the poultry plants participating in the USDA's controversial line speed waiver program have had Covid-19 outbreaks, according to an analysis of FERN’s outbreaks database. Labor advocates have warned that faster speeds on crowded processing lines could expose slaughterhouse workers to a greater risk of Covid-19, and even the top federal workplace authority has suggested that meatpackers reduce line speeds to curb the spread of the virus.(No paywall)

Few states release data about Covid-19 in the food system

Over the past six months, Covid-19 has spread rapidly through the workforces of farms, food processing facilities, and meatpacking plants in nearly every state, infecting tens of thousands. Yet determining the exact number of workers who have contracted or died from the virus is virtually impossible, because few states are publicly reporting case and death data in the food and farm sectors.(No paywall)

Children of workers led virus-driven protests in meatpacking town

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)

Fruit-packing workers strike, and Washington State strengthens Covid-19 protections

After several weeks of strikes by workers at six fruit-packing facilities in Yakima, Washington, and a number of outbreaks of Covid-19 in food production and processing plants, the state will require stronger protections for agricultural workers. The new protections, which Gov. Jay Inslee announced on May 28 and which take effect June 3, require agricultural employers to provide all workers with personal protective equipment at no cost, ensure physical distancing or barriers between workers when distancing is not possible, place hand-washing stations at regular intervals among workers, and implement sanitation and distancing on employer-provided transportation.(No paywall)

The lethal Covid-19 connection between meatpacking plants and rural communities

As the coronavirus pandemic continues to devastate the U.S. meatpacking industry and the communities where meatpacking plants are located, a number of disturbing connections are becoming clearer, says FERN’s latest story, produced with The Daily Yonder. The story cross-references Covid-19 outbreaks at meatpacking plants with infection rates in U.S. counties. Among its findings: Rural counties that have meatpacking plants with Covid-19 outbreaks have an average infection rate of nearly 1,100 cases per 100,000 residents. In rural counties without meatpacking plant-linked outbreaks, the average infection rate is only 209 cases per 100,000 residents. (No paywall)

USDA’s keep-it-open power extended to fruits and vegetables

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)

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)

‘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)

Hormel offers $500 Covid-19 bonus to steady workers

Up to $7 million will be paid in bonuses to "team members who continue to produce food during the Covid-19 outbreak," said Hormel Foods on Thursday. The money will be paid in July to employees at Hormel's meat and processed food plants and would follow a $4 million bonus paid in April. (No paywall)