USDA Boosts Effort to Support Virus-Hit Meat, Poultry Producers

MSN reports the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced it will establish a “coordination center” to help livestock and poultry producers hurt by coronavirus-induced meatpacking plant closures.

The USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service will offer “direct support to producers whose animals cannot move to market” and work with state veterinarians and other public officials “to help identify potential alternative markets” as plant shutdowns increase, according to a release posted on the agency’s website.

Senator Joni Ernst, Republican of Iowa, said the state’s pork industry, the nation’s largest, “is in dire straits” with producers facing “difficult and devastating decisions” about their livelihoods but that the USDA’s action was a good step.

“With a system designed for just-in-time delivery, this important sector of our state’s economy has been turned on its head due to meat processing plant closures across Iowa, and the Midwest,” Ernst said in a statement on Saturday.

Smithfield Foods Inc., the world’s No. 1 pork producer, said Friday it was closing its Illinois operations after some workers tested positive for Covid-19. The news came less than an hour after Hormel Foods Corp. said it was idling two of its Jennie-O turkey plants in Minnesota, and a day after Tyson Foods Inc. said it was shutting its beef facility in Pasco, Washington.

Politico reports tens of millions of pounds of American-grown produce is rotting in fields as food banks across the country scramble to meet a massive surge in demand, a two-pronged disaster that has deprived farmers of billions of dollars in revenue while millions of newly jobless Americans struggle to feed their families.

While other federal agencies quickly adapted their programs to the coronavirus crisis, the Agriculture Department took more than a month to make its first significant move to buy up surplus fruits and vegetables — despite repeated entreaties.

The Hill reports Florida-based Publix said it will buy excess produce and milk from farmers for the next several weeks to donate to food banks in areas the supermarket chain serves.

Publix said Wednesday that it will purchase more than 150,000 pounds of produce and 43,500 gallons of milk during the first week of the initiative.

The effort is aimed at helping both the increased number of people expected to be in need of food amid the coronavirus pandemic, as well as farmers who are reportedly discarding produce and milk that isn’t being sold due to mass school and restaurant closures, Publix said.

“As a food retailer, we have the unique opportunity to bridge the gap between the needs of families and farmers impacted by the coronavirus pandemic,” Publix CEO Todd Jones said. “In this time of uncertainty, we are grateful to be able to help Florida’s produce farmers, southeastern dairies and families in our communities.”

Publix said the nonprofit Feeding America has estimated that 17.1 million additional people will experience food insecurity due to school closures and rising unemployment amid the pandemic.

“As we respond to the coronavirus pandemic, Publix understands that more families are turning to us to help put food, especially fresh produce and milk, on their tables,” Feeding South Florida President and CEO Paco Velez said in the announcement. “We’re grateful to Publix for not only supporting growers, but also for their years of support of Feeding South Florida.”