This week brought a few glimpses of the pandemic’s long-term impacts:

  • OSHA fined two meatpackers and upset unions at the same time.
  • Restaurants struggle to survive as cooler weather threatens successful outdoor dining.
  • Additionally, we share some takeaways from USFRA’s “Honor the Harvest.”

“The OSHA citation . . . attempts to impose a standard that did not exist in March as we fought the pandemic with no guidance.”

JBS USA statement (The Washington Post)

Packing in the Fines

Late last week, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) fined two meatpacking companies for “violation of the general duty clause for failing to provide a workplace free from recognized hazards that can cause death or serious harm” during the pandemic. The agency fined Smithfield $13,494 on September 10 and issued a $15,615 fine to JBS on September 11. Notably, OSHA only fined foreign-owned meatpackers.

  • The Washington Post’s Kimberly Kindy criticized OSHA for waiting six months to issue citations, considering that the agency has received “nearly 10,000 virus-related requests.”
  • United Food & Commercial Workers International Union President Marc Perrone asked, “How much is the health, safety, and life of an essential worker worth? Based on the actions of the Trump Administration, clearly not much.”
  • Tom Philpott of Mother Jones compared the fines to the company’s profits. Smithfield posted $2 billion and JBS reported $1.5 billion profit last year.
  • However, OSHA’s citations clashed with the agency’s inaction early in the pandemic — the fines referred to dates in March despite the agency’s failure to issue guidance until April 26. Food Safety News provided a helpful timeline of actions taken by the meatpackers and health agencies.
  • North American Meat Institute President and CEO Julie Anna Potts objected: “While the meat and poultry industry remains vigilant working with many government agencies to stop the spread of COVID-19, OSHA engages in revisionism.”

Dire Outlook for Dining Out

New data on restaurant closures and a failed attempt by Congress to approve additional stimulus underscored the challenges facing restaurant owners. Cooler temperatures across the country threaten to reduce outdoor dining options.

  • The National Restaurant Association estimated that 100,000 restaurants will close, costing 2.5 million jobs and $240 billion by year’s end.
  • Nation’s Restaurant News featured restaurateur Elizabeth Blau, who appealed to industry stakeholders to “contact their local lawmakers in an effort to save the restaurant industry” as Congress failed to authorize additional stimulus.
  • Under mounting pressure from restaurant leaders, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced indoor dining can resume in New York City at 25% capacity and restaurants can add a 10% COVID surcharge beginning September 30 (The New York Times).
  • Food & Wine reported temporary restaurant closures and additional restrictions on outdoor dining in wildfire-ravaged Portland, San Francisco and Seattle, due to poor air quality.
  • Los Angeles Times restaurant critic Bill Addison suggested “The story of the 2020 restaurant crisis … is as much about a call to action from its inner ranks as it is about the effects of the pandemic.”
  • On a positive note, Eater Chicago reviewed notable submissions to the city’s Winter Dining Challenge that was designed to find creative ways to extend outdoor eating as temperatures dip.

“Transformation takes fortitude; the revolution, in the restaurant industry and the media that covers it, will require leadership and resources, particularly as we all continue to process the ongoing calamity.”

Bill Addison, restaurant critic, Los Angeles Times

Five Takeaways From USFRA’s ‘Honor the Harvest’

Bader Rutter took part in the annual Honor the Harvest conference hosted virtually this year by U.S. Farmers and Ranchers in Action (USFRA). The goal is to bring together leaders and change-makers from food, agriculture, science and technology to advance ideas that achieve global, sustainable food systems. Here are five impressions it left on us …

  • Collaboration is imperative. Farmers and ranchers cannot drive change on their own, nor can NGOs, food brands and academics. Finding mutually beneficial opportunities to drive collaboration will lower investment costs and drive positive advances.
  • Change requires investment. Financing plays a massive role in advancing climate-smart agriculture. Mobilizing capital for farmers and ranchers by rewarding more sustainable practices will encourage real change, literally at the grass roots level.
  • Data and metrics drive progress. But agreeing upon the best inputs, the ownership and the ultimate benefits of that data will require as much collaboration as financing will. This can be accelerated by farmer-led stewardship, better transparency, and at the most basic level, improving rural broadband infrastructure.
  • A strong workforce is critical. COVID-19 has reminded all of us just how essential the food and agriculture workforce is. We need to engage communities and government, seizing the present opportunity to drive systemic change. Food producers should champion that effort because their businesses ultimately rely on them.
  • Food brands must share these supply chain stories. From our perspective, promoting innovations and investments in the supply chain, or “food value chain” as the USFRA likes to refer to it, can create meaningful differentiation for food brands. This is relevant content to today’s consumers that builds loyalty. Promoting them also spurs broader momentum for investing in these changes. That’s a win-win.

The USFRA likes to position farmers and ranchers as the key change agents, and that’s valid. But generating widespread appreciation for the critical importance of their ambitious goals will demand coalition building. As the Amish like to put it, “many hands make light work.”

Worth Reading.

Some important points of view worth checking out this weekend.

When You Can’t Target Kids …

On September 15, Purdue ag economist Jayson Lusk responded to a month-old article about advertising “junk food” to children, which Tamar Haspel wrote for The Washington Post. While Haspel argued for banning advertising of certain foods that appeal to kids, Lusk explored economic countermeasures that brands would likely employ, such as lowering prices.

Biotech Hits

A trio of biotechnology developments caught our attention this week. Reuters described a breakthrough “proof of concept” for more efficient livestock achieved by British and U.S. researchers using CRISPR gene-editing technology. Pairwise, a food tech startup in North Carolina, is also using CRISPR technology to remove “hurdles” for fruit and vegetable consumption, like cherry pits (Food Dive). Finally, Triple Pundit covered Bayer’s efforts to combat tomato brown rugose fruit virus (ToBRFV), a disease known to devastate tomato crops.

CEOs on GHGs

On September 16, the Business Roundtable, a prominent association of U.S. CEOs, published a statement addressing climate change, “calling for a well-designed market-based mechanism and other supporting policies to provide certainty and unleash innovation to lift America toward a cleaner, brighter future.” The Wall Street Journal’s Greg Ip reported the shift in policy: “It shows how business is shifting from a source of resistance to a force for action on climate.”

2020 in a Tweet

The “Twitter from Home” quarantine trend report recaps “what people in the U.S. have been listening to, watching, eating and doing to stay connected and entertained in the past six months.” Of course, we were curious about the “eating” part. Food & Wine summarized the “Most tweeted-about food in the U.S.” list — surprisingly, bread was not the #1 topic.

Ethnic is the New Normal

Business Insider retail reporter Irene Jiang asserted that millennials are killing the “ethnic” aisle in grocery stores. Jiang explained how once-exotic items like salsa and turmeric are now mainstream and profitable: “Today, American palettes have become more diverse than ever — because of both an increased interest from white millennials in foods with global origins and the increased buying power of immigrants and ethnic minorities in the U.S.”