Webinar: Impacts of COVID-19 on Food Security and Long-term Implications and Adaptations

by Diana Winters

On September 18, I attended a webinar hosted by the Center for Urban and Regional Analysis at Ohio State University on the impacts of Covid-19 on food security. The panelists included Kip Curtis, an Associate Professor in the Department of History at OSU, Mary Rodriguez, an Assistant Professor in the Department of Agricultural Communication, Education, and Leadership at OSU, Brian Snyder, the Executive Director of the Initiative for Food and Agricultural Transformation (InFACT) at OSU, and Lauren Vargo – a Program Manager at Case Western Reserve University.

The panelists discussed the enormous impact of Covid-19 on family decision-making concerning food, and the increase in the use of federal and state food assistance benefits. Rodriguez described how families had to shift their buying habits because of the pandemic. Although official advice was to acquire two weeks of food, many families had neither the financial capacity nor the infrastructure to do so, and had to shift their diets accordingly. Curtis, an environmental historian, discussed the growing importance of local food production, in the context of many crises–not just the pandemic.

Snyder analogized the food system to a river, which had reduced water flow because of the pandemic. This drop in water level exposed hazards in the system that were always there, but hidden. For example, the public became aware of shortages and surpluses in the supply chain, as well as bottlenecks and dams in production, processing, and distribution. Worker issues became visible, especially in the area of meat processing, as production slowed because of rampant disease spread amongst closely packed individuals. Moreover, the fact that approximately 50% of farmworkers are undocumented disincentivized testing and treatment, which leads to more disease spread.

Vargo pointed out how much more food is in the media now, and this webinar highlighted how food and food systems became critically important during the Covid-19 pandemic, which is by no means over. There is no more important time to address the hazards in our food supply, to prepare us not just for future crises, but for the present.

President Trump Signs Executive Order to Keep Meat Processing Plants Open

by Diana Winters

Thousands of workers at meat processing and packing plants have contracted coronavirus* and over 20 have died.  As of last week 13 plants had closed down for some period of time resulting in a significant reduction in the nation’s meat slaughter (pork and beef) capacity.

Yesterday, April 28, President Trump signed an Executive Order declaring meat plants “critical infrastructure” and directing the Secretary of Agriculture, Sonny Perdue, to ensure that processing plants remain open.

The Order requires that continued operations be in compliance with guidance from the CDC and OSHA regarding safety in plants, but because this guidance is voluntary, labor representatives fear that workers will continue to be put at risk by working in meat plants.  Moreover, some meat plant workers insist they will not be ordered to come to work.

Some scholars have speculated that the main purpose of the Order is to block local objections and potentially protect the meat processing and packing industry from liability for coronavirus contracted on the job.  The issue of tort liability is being discussed more broadly in relation to the gradual reopening of the economy, and certain representatives for business are asking the Trump administration to include a liability shield in any future relief legislation.

As we consider the effects of this Executive Order, perhaps this is a good time to remember that poor diet has been linked to worse outcomes from Covid-19, and that excess meat consumption has been linked to many diet-related diseases.  Maybe a (temporary) reduction in the meat supply can be tolerated?

 

*Many of the articles linked in this post, as well as many others, are linked in the Resnick Center’s UCLA Law LibGuide to Covid-19 and Food Law.

Meat Production and Covid-19 – Shortages Coming?

by Diana R. H. Winters

One of the country’s largest pork processing facilities announced that it is closing indefinitely.  The Smithfields Foods, Inc. plant in Sioux Falls, South Dakota will close after almost 300 of its workers tested positive for coronavirus.  The plant employs 3700 workers and produces about four percent of the pork production in the United States.

Other major meat producers, including JBS USA and Tyson, have closed facilities after workers tested positive, and in some instances, died.

These closures illuminate significant worker safety problems at meat production plants.  Manufacturers have been slow to provide protective equipment to low-wage workers standing close together to process meat and have pressured employees to remain working even if sick.

Moreover, these closures are one of many Covid-19 food supply chain issues resulting from the shutdown, which also include the inability of food producers to repackage food meant for institutional or restaurant use for retail use.  The New York Times reported on the resulting massive food waste this past weekend.

All of the articles linked in this post can be found in the Resnick Center’s and the UCLA Law Library’s resource guide to Covid-19 and food law.  Here in the blog we will occasionally highlight important trends and stories we see emerging.  Please explore our guide, and forward relevant material for inclusion in the guide.

 

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