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Report says Trump helped meatpackers block worker protections

industryview/Getty Images Butcher cutting meat
Legislative Watch: Biden announces new ag efforts; Senators press administration on trade agreements; crop planting still behind.

The House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis released a report, “How the Trump Administration Helped the Meatpacking Industry Block Pandemic Worker Protections,” in which it says that the largest meatpackers engaged in a “concerted effort” with Trump political officials to “insulate themselves from coronavirus-related oversight, to force workers to continue working in dangerous conditions, and to shield themselves from legal liability for any resulting worker illness or death.”

The chairman of the subcommittee, Representative James Clyburn, D-S.C., said: “The Select Subcommittee’s investigation has revealed that former President Trump’s political appointees at USDA collaborated with large meatpacking companies to lead an administration-wide effort to force workers to remain on the job during the coronavirus crisis despite dangerous conditions, and even to prevent the imposition of commonsense mitigation measures. This coordinated campaign prioritized industry production over the health of workers and communities and contributed to tens of thousands of workers becoming ill, hundreds of workers dying, and the virus spreading throughout surrounding areas. The shameful conduct of corporate executives pursuing profit at any cost during a crisis and government officials eager to do their bidding regardless of resulting harm to the public must never be repeated.” 

The select subcommittee said they found that deaths and infections in the first year of the pandemic were significantly higher than previously estimated among workers at Tyson Foods, JBS, Smithfield, Cargill, and National Beef. 

The meat and poultry industry hit back on the report saying it did not recognize the efforts by industry to keep workers safe and continue to provide products for consumers. 

The North American Meat Institute President Julie Anna Potts said in a statement: “The House Select Committee has done the nation a disservice. The committee could have tried to learn what the industry did to stop the spread of COVID among meat and poultry workers, reducing positive cases associated with the industry while cases were surging across the country. Instead, the committee uses 20/20 insight and cherry picks data to support a narrative that is completely unrepresentative of the early days of an unprecedented national emergency.”

National Chicken Council president Mike Brown said in a statement, “The chicken industry, as with other critical industries, was on the front lines and absorbed blows as the first wave of COVID-19 swept across the country. To be clear, the effects of COVID-19 have been grievous, and no industry sector was spared. But although the challenge was immense, the people who make up the chicken industry showed enormous resiliency and innovative spirit in responding. Workplaces were adapted, and then adapted again as we learned more about the virus. The data show these efforts worked.”

He continued, “We regret that this report failed to shine light on the momentous efforts between industry, government and state and local health officials to keep employees safe and to keep Americans fed during one of the most challenging and uncertain times in our nation’s history.”

Biden announces efforts to lower food costs and lower costs for farmers

At a farm in Kankakee, Illinois, on Wednesday, President Biden announced new initiatives to encourage U.S. farmers to increase production that will help address increased food costs and global food shortages caused by the war in Ukraine. 

President Biden praised American farmers for being the “breadbasket of democracy.”  Biden said, “America is fighting on two fronts. At home, it’s inflation and rising prices. Abroad, it’s helping Ukrainians defend their democracy and feeding those who are left hungry around the world because Russian atrocities exist.”

The administration’s initiative is to:

  • Increase the number of counties eligible for double cropping insurance – The goal is to expand insurance for double cropping to an additional 681 counties. This will bring the total number of counties to 1,935 where double cropping qualifies for crop insurance.  
  • Cut costs for farmers by increasing technical assistance for technology-driven “precision agriculture” and other nutrient management tools. 
  • Double funding for domestic fertilizer production – USDA will now invest $500 million in fertilizer production, doubling USDA’s previous announcement of $250 million.

Senators press administration on new trade agreements

An issue of concern for U.S. agriculture and businesses is the lack of including market access commitments in the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework by the administration. There is also concern the administration is not negotiating any new free trade agreements (FTA) as our competitors continue to announce new FTAs. 

A group of 24 Republican Senators wrote U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai and Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack saying, “The lack of ambitious market-opening initiatives not only disadvantages U.S. workers, farmers, ranchers, and businesses today, it jeopardizes America’s competitiveness, resilience, and security in the long-term.”

They added: “Advancing U.S. economic interests – particularly in the Indo-Pacific region – requires meaningful and enforceable market access commitments. We are concerned that the Biden administration is foregoing America’s trade and strategic leadership by failing to pursue such commitments, whether through its Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF) or through its decision not to pursue comprehensive free trade agreements.”

The letter was organized by Senators John Thune, R-S.D., Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, and John Boozman, R-Ark. 

Crop planting increases but still behind

USDA’s planting report on Monday said that 22% of corn has been planted, compared to 50% the previous five-year average. Soybean planting stands at 12%, compared to 24% the previous five-year average. Spring wheat planting is at 27%, compared to the five-year average of 47%. 

Because planting is behind this year, USDA is projecting that the 2022 U.S. corn production will be more than 4% lower compared to 2021. Winter wheat production will be down 8% this year compared to last year. 

Kaptur joins House Ag Committee

Representative Marcy Kaptur, D-Ohio, has been appointed as a member of the House Agriculture Committee.

With millions of acres of farmland, and tens of thousands of family farms, Ohio’s rural communities help make, build, and grow America. I am honored to join the Agriculture Committee, and look forward to ensuring America’s industrial and agricultural heartland receives the attention and investment it deserves,” she said.

Kaptur was first elected to the House of Representatives in 1982. She is also a member of the House Appropriations Committee and House Veteran Affairs Committee. Kaptur takes the seat of former Representative Antonio Delgado, D-N.Y., who recently was named New York’s Lt. Governor. 

 

Source: P. Scott Shearer, who is solely responsible for the information provided, and wholly owns the information. Informa Business Media and all its subsidiaries are not responsible for any of the content contained in this information asset. The opinions of this writer are not necessarily those of Farm Progress/Informa.

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