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Offline Surly1

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The Sickness in Our Food Supply
« on: May 14, 2020, 07:52:03 AM »
The Sickness in Our Food Supply



Michael Pollan June 11, 2020 Issue


“Only when the tide goes out,” Warren Buffett observed, “do you discover who’s been swimming naked.” For our society, the Covid-19 pandemic represents an ebb tide of historic proportions, one that is laying bare vulnerabilities and inequities that in normal times have gone undiscovered. Nowhere is this more evident than in the American food system. A series of shocks has exposed weak links in our food chain that threaten to leave grocery shelves as patchy and unpredictable as those in the former Soviet bloc. The very system that made possible the bounty of the American supermarket—its vaunted efficiency and ability to “pile it high and sell it cheap”—suddenly seems questionable, if not misguided. But the problems the novel coronavirus has revealed are not limited to the way we produce and distribute food. They also show up on our plates, since the diet on offer at the end of the industrial food chain is linked to precisely the types of chronic disease that render us more vulnerable to Covid-19.

The juxtaposition of images in the news of farmers destroying crops and dumping milk with empty supermarket shelves or hungry Americans lining up for hours at food banks tells a story of economic efficiency gone mad. Today the US actually has two separate food chains, each supplying roughly half of the market. The retail food chain links one set of farmers to grocery stores, and a second chain links a different set of farmers to institutional purchasers of food, such as restaurants, schools, and corporate offices. With the shutting down of much of the economy, as Americans stay home, this second food chain has essentially collapsed. But because of the way the industry has developed over the past several decades, it’s virtually impossible to reroute food normally sold in bulk to institutions to the retail outlets now clamoring for it. There’s still plenty of food coming from American farms, but no easy way to get it where it’s needed.

How did we end up here? The story begins early in the Reagan administration, when the Justice Department rewrote the rules of antitrust enforcement: if a proposed merger promised to lead to greater marketplace “efficiency”—the watchword—and wouldn’t harm the consumer, i.e., didn’t raise prices, it would be approved. (It’s worth noting that the word “consumer” appears nowhere in the Sherman Anti-Trust Act, passed in 1890. The law sought to protect producers—including farmers—and our politics from undue concentrations of corporate power.)1 The new policy, which subsequent administrations have left in place, propelled a wave of mergers and acquisitions in the food industry. As the industry has grown steadily more concentrated since the 1980s, it has also grown much more specialized, with a tiny number of large corporations dominating each link in the supply chain. One chicken farmer interviewed recently in Washington Monthly, who sells millions of eggs into the liquified egg market, destined for omelets in school cafeterias, lacks the grading equipment and packaging (not to mention the contacts or contracts) to sell his eggs in the retail marketplace.2 That chicken farmer had no choice but to euthanize thousands of hens at a time when eggs are in short supply in many supermarkets.

On April 26, John Tyson, the chairman of Tyson Foods, the second-largest meatpacker in America, took out ads in The New York Times and other newspapers to declare that the food chain was “breaking,” raising the specter of imminent meat shortages as outbreaks of Covid-19 hit the industry.3Slaughterhouses have become hot zones for contagion, with thousands of workers now out sick and dozens of them dying.4 This should come as no surprise: social distancing is virtually impossible in a modern meat plant, making it an ideal environment for a virus to spread. In recent years, meatpackers have successfully lobbied regulators to increase line speeds, with the result that workers must stand shoulder to shoulder cutting and deboning animals so quickly that they can’t pause long enough to cover a cough, much less go to the bathroom, without carcasses passing them by. Some chicken plant workers, given no regular bathroom breaks, now wear diapers.5 A worker can ask for a break, but the plants are so loud he or she can’t be heard without speaking directly into the ear of a supervisor. Until recently slaughterhouse workers had little or no access to personal protective equipment; many of them were also encouraged to keep working even after exposure to the virus. Add to this the fact that many meat-plant workers are immigrants who live in crowded conditions with little or no access to health care, and you have a population at dangerously high risk of infection.

When the number of Covid-19 cases in America’s slaughterhouses exploded in late April—12,608 confirmed, with forty-nine deaths as of May 11—public health officials and governors began ordering plants to close. It was this threat to the industry’s profitability that led to Tyson’s declaration, which President Trump would have been right to see as a shakedown: the president’s political difficulties could only be compounded by a shortage of meat. In order to reopen their production lines, Tyson and his fellow packers wanted the federal government to step in and preempt local public health authorities; they also needed liability protection, in case workers or their unions sued them for failing to observe health and safety regulations.

Within days of Tyson’s ad, President Trump obliged the meatpackers by invoking the Defense Production Act. After having declined to use it to boost the production of badly needed coronavirus test kits, he now declared meat a “scarce and critical material essential to the national defense.” The executive order took the decision to reopen or close meat plants out of local hands, forced employees back to work without any mandatory safety precautions, and offered their employers some protection from liability for their negligence. On May 8, Tyson reopened a meatpacking plant in Waterloo, Iowa, where more than a thousand workers had tested positive.

The president and America’s meat eaters, not to mention its meat-plant workers, would never have found themselves in this predicament if not for the concentration of the meat industry, which has given us a supply chain so brittle that the closure of a single plant can cause havoc at every step, from farm to supermarket. Four companies now process more than 80 percent of beef cattle in America; another four companies process 57 percent of the hogs. A single Smithfield processing plant in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, processes 5 percent of the pork Americans eat. When an outbreak of Covid-19 forced the state’s governor to shut that plant down in April, the farmers who raise pigs committed to it were stranded.

Once pigs reach slaughter weight, there’s not much else you can do with them. You can’t afford to keep feeding them; even if you could, the production lines are designed to accommodate pigs up to a certain size and weight, and no larger. Meanwhile, you’ve got baby pigs entering the process, steadily getting fatter. Much the same is true for the hybrid industrial chickens, which, if allowed to live beyond their allotted six or seven weeks, are susceptible to broken bones and heart problems and quickly become too large to hang on the disassembly line. This is why the meat-plant closures forced American farmers to euthanize millions of animals, at a time when food banks were overwhelmed by demand.6

Under normal circumstances, the modern hog or chicken is a marvel of brutal efficiency, bred to produce protein at warp speed when given the right food and pharmaceuticals. So are the factories in which they are killed and cut into parts. These innovations have made meat, which for most of human history has been a luxury, a cheap commodity available to just about all Americans; we now eat, on average, more than nine ounces of meat per person per day, many of us at every meal.7 Covid-19 has brutally exposed the risks that accompany such a system. There will always be a tradeoff between efficiency and resilience (not to mention ethics); the food industry opted for the former, and we are now paying the price.

Imagine how different the story would be if there were still tens of thousands of chicken and pig farmers bringing their animals to hundreds of regional slaughterhouses. An outbreak at any one of them would barely disturb the system; it certainly wouldn’t be front-page news. Meat would probably be more expensive, but the redundancy would render the system more resilient, making breakdowns in the national supply chain unlikely. Successive administrations allowed the industry to consolidate because the efficiencies promised to make meat cheaper for the consumer, which it did. It also gave us an industry so powerful it can enlist the president of the United States in its efforts to bring local health authorities to heel and force reluctant and frightened workers back onto the line.


Daniel Acker/Bloomberg/Getty ImagesWorkers processing pork at a Smithfield Foods plant, Milan, Missouri, April 2017

Another vulnerability that the novel coronavirus has exposed is the paradoxical notion of “essential” workers who are grossly underpaid and whose lives are treated as disposable. It is the men and women who debone chicken carcasses flying down a line at 175 birds a minute, or pick salad greens under the desert sun, or drive refrigerated produce trucks across the country who are keeping us fed and keeping the wheels of our society from flying off. Our utter dependence on them has never been more clear. This should give food and agricultural workers a rare degree of political leverage at the very moment they are being disproportionately infected. Scattered job actions and wildcat strikes are beginning to pop up around the country—at Amazon, Instacart, Whole Foods, Walmart, and some meat plants—as these workers begin to flex their muscle.8This is probably just the beginning. Perhaps their new leverage will allow them to win the kinds of wages, protections, and benefits that would more accurately reflect their importance to society.

So far, the produce sections of our supermarkets remain comparatively well stocked, but what happens this summer and next fall, if the outbreaks that have crippled the meat industry hit the farm fields? Farmworkers, too, live and work in close proximity, many of them undocumented immigrants crammed into temporary quarters on farms. Lacking benefits like sick pay, not to mention health insurance, they often have no choice but to work even when infected. Many growers depend on guest workers from Mexico to pick their crops; what happens if the pandemic—or the Trump administration, which is using the pandemic to justify even more restrictions on immigration—prevents them from coming north this year?

The food chain is buckling. But it’s worth pointing out that there are parts of it that are adapting and doing relatively well. Local food systems have proved surprisingly resilient. Small, diversified farmers who supply restaurants have had an easier time finding new markets; the popularity of community-supported agriculture (CSA) is taking off, as people who are cooking at home sign up for weekly boxes of produce from regional growers. (The renaissance of home cooking, and baking, is one of the happier consequences of the lockdown, good news both for our health and for farmers who grow actual food, as opposed to commodities like corn and soy.) In many places, farmer’s markets have quickly adjusted to pandemic conditions, instituting social-distancing rules and touchless payment systems. The advantages of local food systems have never been more obvious, and their rapid growth during the past two decades has at least partly insulated many communities from the shocks to the broader food economy.

The pandemic is, willy-nilly, making the case for deindustrializing and decentralizing the American food system, breaking up the meat oligopoly, ensuring that food workers have sick pay and access to health care, and pursuing policies that would sacrifice some degree of efficiency in favor of much greater resilience. Somewhat less obviously, the pandemic is making the case not only for a different food system but for a radically different diet as well.

It’s long been understood that an industrial food system built upon a foundation of commodity crops like corn and soybeans leads to a diet dominated by meat and highly processed food. Most of what we grow in this country is not food exactly, but rather feed for animals and the building blocks from which fast food, snacks, soda, and all the other wonders of food processing, such as high-fructose corn syrup, are manufactured. While some sectors of agriculture are struggling during the pandemic, we can expect the corn and soybean crop to escape more or less unscathed. That’s because it takes remarkably little labor—typically a single farmer on a tractor, working alone—to plant and harvest thousands of acres of these crops. So processed foods should be the last kind to disappear from supermarket shelves.

Unfortunately, a diet dominated by such foods (as well as lots of meat and little in the way of vegetables or fruit—the so-called Western diet) predisposes us to obesity and chronic diseases such as hypertension and type-2 diabetes. These “underlying conditions” happen to be among the strongest predictors that an individual infected with Covid-19 will end up in the hospital with a severe case of the disease; the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have reported that 49 percent of the people hospitalized for Covid-19 had preexisting hypertension, 48 percent were obese, and 28 percent had diabetes.9

Why these particular conditions should worsen Covid-19 infections might be explained by the fact that all three are symptoms of chronic inflammation, which is a disorder of the body’s immune system. (The Western diet is by itself inflammatory.) One way that Covid-19 kills is by sending the victim’s immune system into hyperdrive, igniting a “cytokine storm” that eventually destroys the lungs and other organs. A new Chinese study conducted in hospitals in Wuhan found that elevated levels of C-reactive protein, a standard marker of inflammation that has been linked to poor diet, “correlated with disease severity and tended to be a good predictor of adverse outcomes.”10

A momentous question awaits us on the far side of the current crisis: Are we willing to address the many vulnerabilities that the novel coronavirus has so dramatically exposed? It’s not hard to imagine a coherent and powerful new politics organized around precisely that principle. It would address the mistreatment of essential workers and gaping holes in the social safety net, including access to health care and sick leave—which we now understand, if we didn’t before, would be a benefit to all of us. It would treat public health as a matter of national security, giving it the kind of resources that threats to national security warrant.

But to be comprehensive, this post-pandemic politics would also need to confront the glaring deficiencies of a food system that has grown so concentrated that it is exquisitely vulnerable to the risks and disruptions now facing us. In addition to protecting the men and women we depend on to feed us, it would also seek to reorganize our agricultural policies to promote health rather than mere production, by paying attention to the quality as well as the quantity of the calories it produces. For even when our food system is functioning “normally,” reliably supplying the supermarket shelves and drive-thrus with cheap and abundant calories, it is killing us—slowly in normal times, swiftly in times like these. The food system we have is not the result of the free market. (There hasn’t been a free market in food since at least the Great Depression.) No, our food system is the product of agricultural and antitrust policies—political choices—that, as has suddenly become plain, stand in urgent need of reform.

—May 12, 2020
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Offline Surly1

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April saw the sharpest increase in grocery store prices in nearly 50 years
Even as the consumer price index dips overall, Americans are seeing record hikes in the prices of meats, vegetables and cereals



Amid concerns of the spread of covid-19, a little girl wears a mask at El Rancho grocery store in Dallas, Tuesday, May 12, 2020. (LM Otero)

Grocery prices showed their biggest monthly increase in nearly 50 years last month, led by rising prices for meat and eggs, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported Tuesday.

U.S. consumers paid 4.3 percent more in April for meats, poultry, fish and eggs, 1.5 percent more for fruits and vegetables, and 2.9 percent more for cereals and bakery products, the Labor Department said.

Overall, consumers paid 2.6 percent more in April for groceries, the largest one-month jump since February 1974.

The jump in food prices came in a month when more than 20 million Americans lost their jobs, driving 1 in 5 households into food insecurity.

The increase in food prices was in marked contrast to a broader decline in the basket of goods that makes up the U.S. consumer price index, which fell 0.8 percent in April, the largest single-month decline since 2008.

The hike in cereal and bakery products was the steepest single-month increase on record, which goes back to 1919, according to Geri Henchy, director of nutrition policy for the Food Research & Action Center, a nonprofit organization working to eradicate poverty-related hunger and undernutrition.

She attributes the inflated prices to two things: a shift in where consumers are purchasing their food, and supply chain disruptions due to covid-19 outbreaks in food production facilities as well as slowdowns related to social distancing and sheltering in place.

“It’s a tipping point for people who are already really struggling with resources.” she said. “Their budgets are taxed and now add increases in the price of food. There’s been a big increase in food insecurity, which is twice as bad for people of color and families with young children. People can’t go on with those lowered resources forever.”

Food at home price increases normally lag behind those of restaurants and food service, according to David Henkes, a senior principal at food industry research firm Technomic. He says this was not the case this time because of the short-term shock to the supply chain delivered by the mass shutdown of restaurants and food service companies, which reduced demand by 90 percent.

“I do think this will probably continue for several months,” Henkes says. “There are production issues in some parts of the food industry, and it’s hard to realign the supply chain overnight. At the same time, each of these manufacturers and distributors needs to figure out how to start re-servicing restaurants and other food service establishments as they start to come back online, all of which will have an impact on supply, demand and ultimately pricing.”

Henchy’s FRAC is calling on the administration to nearly double the minimum SNAP benefit from $16 to $30 per month and increase the maximum SNAP benefit by 15 percent. It is also calling for a suspension of all SNAP administrative rules that would weaken or terminate benefits.

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Offline JRM

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Re: The Sickness in Our Food Supply
« Reply #2 on: May 14, 2020, 10:05:21 AM »
I'm surprised at how low the percentage increase has been, given how big the disruptions have been.  What is surprising about the story is the low percentage of increase.
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Offline Eddie

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Re: The Sickness in Our Food Supply
« Reply #3 on: May 14, 2020, 10:36:54 AM »
I'm surprised at how low the percentage increase has been, given how big the disruptions have been.  What is surprising about the story is the low percentage of increase.

Give it time.
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Offline Surly1

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Re: The Sickness in Our Food Supply
« Reply #4 on: May 14, 2020, 01:04:59 PM »
I'm surprised at how low the percentage increase has been, given how big the disruptions have been.  What is surprising about the story is the low percentage of increase.

It's early. Take a look at your bill in six months. Right now we're living on. foods already in the pipeline.
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Farmers are being forced to shoot and gas thousands of animals a day
« Reply #5 on: May 15, 2020, 03:57:22 AM »
Farmers are being forced to shoot and gas thousands of animals a day, devastating their business amid meat shortages



Jessica Snouwaert
18 hours ago
  • Farmers across the Midwest are euthanizing their stocks of pigs and chickens because of a backlog caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
  • Farmers are suffering economic and psychological consequences as they slaughter large numbers of animals.
  • As pigs grow to be too large and numerous, farmers are forced to shoot, gas, and inject their animals.

The meat-packing industry is struggling to keep supply chains running as usual during the coronavirus pandemic, forcing Midwest pig farmers to euthanize huge portions of their stock, according to a report by The New York Times' Michael Corkery and David Yaffe-Bellany.

Slaughterhouses and meat-processing plants have been some of the worst hotbeds of COVID-19 outbreaks with hundreds of workers falling ill. Many processing plants shut down, including Smithfield Food, a foremost pork-processing center in South Dakota.

Slaughterhouses' decline in production creates issues on both ends of the supply chain, sparking shortages at grocery stores during a time when many are struggling to eat as layoffs reach historical highs, but also leaving farmers with a surplus of livestock.

For farmers in Iowa, Minnesota, and other Midwestern states, they have had little choice but to euthanize the backlog of animals, which means gassing or shooting thousands of pigs in a day, according to The New York Times.

The financial and emotional repercussions on the farmers are profound. Some farmers lose as much as $390,000 in a day, said the report. So far 90,000 pigs have been killed in Minnesota alone.

The pigs these farmers raise grow up to 300 pounds for commercial meatpacking but if they grow much bigger they become too dangerous for slaughterhouses, according to the Times. That's why farmers are trying to pare down their pig's diet and sell smaller pigs to local butchers and hunters.

But for some farmers' stock, it's still inadequate and they must resort to killing piglets and aborting baby pigs to slow the ever-growing crop of animals, according to the Times.

Pig farmers aren't the only ones dealing with decisions like this; chicken farmers recently euthanized millions of their birds.

Do you have a personal experience with the coronavirus you'd like to share? Or a tip on how your town or community is handling the pandemic? Please email covidtips@businessinsider.com and tell us your story.

Get the latest coronavirus business & economic impact analysis from Business Insider Intelligence on how COVID-19 is affecting industries.


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Every worker has covid at one US farm on eve of harvest
« Reply #6 on: May 31, 2020, 06:17:26 AM »
Every worker has covid at one US farm on eve of harvest


A worker washes radishes at a farm in Hudson, New York, U.S, New York, U.S., on Monday, May 18, 2020.

All of the roughly 200 employees on a produce farm in Tennessee tested positive for covid-19 this month. In New Jersey, more than 50 workers had the virus at a farm in Gloucester County, adding to nearly 60 who fell ill in neighboring Salem County. Almost 170 were reported to get the disease at a tomato and strawberry greenhouse complex in Oneida, New York.

The outbreaks underscore the latest coronavirus threat to America's food supply: Farm workers are getting sick and spreading the illness just as the U.S. heads into the peak of the summer produce season. In all likelihood, the cases will keep climbing as more than half a million seasonal employees crowd onto buses to move among farms across the country and get housed together in cramped bunkhouse-style dormitories.

The early outbreaks are already starting to draw comparisons to the infections that plunged the U.S. meat industry into crisis over the past few months. Analysts and experts are warning that thousands of farm workers are vulnerable to contracting the disease.

Aside from the most immediate concern -- the grave danger that farmhands face -- the outbreaks could also create labor shortages at the worst possible time. Produce crops such as berries have a short life span, with only a couple of weeks during which they can be harvested. If a farm doesn't have enough workers to collect crops in that window, they're done for the season and the fruit will rot. A spike in virus cases among workers may mean shortages of some fruits and vegetables at the grocery store, along with higher prices.

"We're watching very, very nervously -- the agricultural harvest season is only starting now," said Michael Dale, executive director of the Northwest Workers' Justice Project in Portland, Oregon, and a lawyer who has represented farm workers for 40 years. "I don't think we're ready. I don't think we're prepared."

Unlike grain crops that rely on machinery, America's fruits and vegetables are mostly picked and packed by hand, in long shifts out in the open -- a typically undesirable job in major economies. So the position typically goes to immigrants, who make up about three quarters of U.S. farm workers.

A workforce of seasonal migrants travels across the nation, following harvest patterns. Most come from Mexico and Latin America through key entry points like southern California, and go further by bus, often for hours, sometimes for days.

There are as many as 2.7 million hired farm workers in the U.S., including migrant, seasonal, year-round and guest-program workers, according to the Migrant Clinicians Network. While many migrants have their permanent residence in the U.S., moving from location to location during the warmer months, others enter through the federal H2A visa program. Still, roughly half of hired crop farmworkers lack legal immigration status, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

These are some of the most vulnerable populations in the U.S., subjected to tough working conditions for little pay and meager benefits. Most don't have access to adequate health care. Many don't speak English.

Without them, it would be nearly impossible to keep America's produce aisles filled. And yet, there's no one collecting national numbers on how many are falling sick.

"There is woefully inadequate surveillance of what's happening with covid-19 and farm workers," said Erik Nicholson, a national vice president for the United Farm Workers. "There is no central reporting, which is crazy because these are essential businesses."

On the Tennessee farm where workers caught the virus, only a very few showed any symptoms. After an initial worker tested positive for covid-19, all employees at Henderson Farms in Evensville were given tests out of an "abundance of caution," revealing the infection had spread among all of them. The workers are now all in isolation at the farm, where they live and work.

"We take our responsibility to protect the essential workers feeding the nation through the pandemic seriously," Henderson Farms said in a statement. "In addition to continuing our policy of providing free healthcare, we have implemented additional measures to support workers directly impacted by covid-19, including those in isolation as per the latest public health guidelines. We are working closely with public health officials in Rhea County, Tennessee, to ensure we can continue to deliver our high standard of care as we support our workers and our community through these unprecedented times."

May and June mark the start of a critical few months when migrant workers head to fields in North America and Europe to plant and gather crops. Travel restrictions amid the pandemic are already creating a labor squeeze. In Russia, the government is calling on convicts and students to fill in the labor gap on berry and vegetable farms. In the U.K., Prince Charles took to Twitter to encourage residents to #PickForBritain. Farmers in western Europe usually rely on seasonal workers from eastern Europe or northern Africa.

In Canada, migrant workers often come from Jamaica, Guatemala and Mexico. They're typically housed on farms, with two or four people sharing a room, depending on if there are bunk-beds, said Colin Chapdelaine, president of BC Hot House, a greenhouse farming company that grows tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers in Surrey, British Columbia.

All the houses are audited and approved by regulators with guidelines for how much kitchen and bathroom space to provide, but "covid has kind of turned that on its head," he said.

"It's a precarious situation if something happens and it flows through a greenhouse and you can't pick your crop," Chapdelaine said. "We're taking huge precautions to make sure everyone comes in suited and masked up. You have to do all the right things and still hope for the best."

In the U.S., migrant farm workers primarily come from Mexico and Latin America.

President Donald Trump has sought to maintain the flow of foreign workers to U.S. farms during the pandemic, waiving interview requirements for some guest workers when consular offices shut down and exempting them from a temporary immigration ban. But so far, the administration hasn't created rules to protect the workers. Democratic Representative Jimmy Panetta of California and 71 other members of Congress urged in a letter last week that the next coronavirus relief package include funding dedicated to combating spread of the virus among farm workers.

Even before infections started to creep up, there weren't enough workers, causing harvest issues in parts of the U.S. Some prices started to move up. A 2-pound package of strawberries is fetching about 17% more than it was last year, and a pint of cherry tomatoes is 52% higher, USDA data as of May 22 show.

So far, though, the price impact has been limited. As restaurants shuttered during virus lockdowns, many farmers lost a key source of produce demand, creating some supply gluts.

Now, stay-at-home restrictions are easing in all 50 states, and some restaurants are opening back up. Meanwhile, labor shortages could get worse as illness among farm workers deepens.

"The cost will go up, and there will be a little bit less available," said Kevin Kenny, chief operating officer of Decernis, an expert in global food safety and supply chains. "You really will see some supply issues coming."

Perishable crops that require more hands on labor to pick are the most at-risk of disruptions, including olives and oranges, Kenny said.

In Florida, oranges are "literally dying on the vines" as not enough migrants can get into the country to pick the crops and things like processed juice will probably cost more in the coming months, he said.

When the virus spread among America's meat workers, plants were forced to shutter as infections rates topped 50% in some facilities. Prices surged, with wholesale beef and pork more than doubling, and grocers including Kroger and Costco rationed customer purchases. Even Wendy's dropped burgers from some menus. After an executive order from Trump, plants have reopened, but worker absenteeism is restraining output. Hog and cattle slaughter rates are still down more than 10% from last year.

The produce industry could see similar problems because workers face some of the same issues. They sometimes work shoulder to shoulder. They are transported to and from job sites in crowded buses or vans. They often come from low-income families and can't afford to call in sick or are afraid of losing their jobs, so they end up showing up to work even if they have symptoms.

"A lot of people are concerned that the summer for farm workers will be like the spring for meat packers," said David Seligman, director of Towards Justice, a nonprofit law firm and advocacy organization based in Denver.

There's "a lot of worker fear because of the asymmetry of power in this industry," Seligman said. "We're hearing anecdotal reports. Gathering information about farm workers is very hard because of how scared and how isolated they are."

There are some key differences between the two industries. For one, farm workers spend most of their time outside, and some research has shown that the virus is less likely to be spread outdoors. Meanwhile, meat workers are piled into cold, damp factories where infectious diseases are particularly hard to control.

In other ways, farm workers are more exposed. Living conditions can be even more cramped, with close-together bunks and communal cooking and bathroom facilities that make physical distancing extremely difficult.

Plus, the workers move around so much, meaning increased chances of exposure for themselves and more chances that sick individuals can spread the illness to other communities.

In Oregon, a farm worker often may move a half dozen times during the summer, working for new growers and housed in new labor camps as they shift from harvesting cherries to strawberries to blueberries to pears, said Dale of the Northwest Workers' Justice Project.

Nely Rodriguez is a former farm worker who is now an organizer with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers in Immokalee, Florida, a major tomato growing area. She said that some farms are taking steps to protect migrants, such as having buses make more trips so workers won't be as cramped and requiring them to wear masks, as well as providing more hand-washing stations and sanitizer.

Lisa Lochridge, a spokeswoman for the Florida Fruit and Vegetable Association, also pointed to increased measures to protect workers and said some employers even set aside separate housing to be used for a quarantine area if necessary. Cory Lunde, of the Western Growers Association, said farm owners are staggering start times, disinfecting buses and increasing distances between workers, both in the field and in packing facilities and offices.

But protection measures can be spotty, said Rodriguez of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers. There aren't yet any farm specific covid-19 safety protocols from the federal government.

The USDA is "diligently working" with the the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration "to develop guidance that will assist farmworkers and employers during this time," the agency said in an emailed statement.

"Additionally, considering the seasonal and migratory nature of the workforce, we are working to identify housing resources that may be available to help control any spread of covid-19," the USDA said.

Harvests take place at different times across the country, depending on the weather and the crop. That means when gathering finishes in an early state like Florida, workers will travel into areas such as Georgia, North Carolina, Indiana and New Jersey, said Rodriguez of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers. They'll often make the journey on old school buses rented by employers, sitting for 7 or 8 hours at a time with 45 people crammed in.

"If there is a bunch of farm workers here that are sick, they can essentially spread this virus to other rural communities," Rodriguez said.

Many farm workers come from indigenous communities in southern Mexico and don't speak English or Spanish as their first language, so they don't have adequate information on the pandemic in a language they can understand, said Bruce Goldstein, president of Farmworker Justice, a national advocacy group.

They typically don't have easy access to coronavirus tests, and many are undocumented so they are concerned about reporting illnesses, he said.

"They're marginalized in Mexico. They're similarly marginalized here," Goldstein said. "People like that are incredibly vulnerable to covid-19."
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