Coverage of President Biden’s inauguration took center stage this week, perhaps pausing news on other fronts. As the new administration takes over, new policies will set the tone for food-production discussions. Meanwhile, ongoing legal proceedings about livestock housing and organic labeling will likely dictate further policy shifts.

“Companies that employ essential workers, whether in grocery stores or meatpacking plants, must realize that they can no longer ignore health and safety concerns and the need for hazard pay.”

Marc Perrone, United Food and Commercial Workers International Union

Biden Time

Industry group leaders weighed in on policy changes they expect under the Biden administration. Much of the attention centered on the administration’s proposed $1.9 trillion “American Rescue Plan.” Food-related themes included worker relations, international trade and environmental stewardship.

  • Service Employees International Union praised worker-focused provisions such as vaccine distribution, overtime pay for farm workers and a minimum wage hike.
  • In a Wall Street Journal opinion piece, Employment Policies Institute Managing Director Michael Saltsman argued, “Increasing restaurants’ labor costs is no way to help them recover from a pandemic.”
  • United Farm Workers hailed immigration reform provisions for “emancipating farm workers so they can escape pervasive fear and behave like free women and men.”
  • Industry groups, such as the produce-focused Western Growers, suggested strategies for international trade arrangements.
  • Environment-related policies drew approval from all sides. Friends of the Earth cheered the nation’s reentry in the Paris Climate Accord, while agriculturalists welcomed the opportunity to “achieve sustainability goals while ensuring climate policies remain market-based and voluntary.”
  • Robert Yeakel of the National Grocers Association tempered expectations: “Prospects of agreement on an aid package of the breadth and cost that Biden announced yesterday seem less than plausible.”

See You in Court

Outside of Washington, D.C., new developments in food production were relatively quiet, perhaps to avoid being overshadowed. However, last-minute rule changes and ongoing legal battles attracted the attention of influential voices this week.

  • Reuters reported that Tyson will pay $221 million to settle claims that the company conspired to inflate chicken prices. Pilgrim’s Pride settled a similar suit on January 11 for $73 million (Reuters). Additional claims from leading foodservice and grocery chains are ongoing.
  • On the last day of his term, Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue issued a controversial Memorandum of Understanding that shifts oversight for genetically engineered livestock from the FDA to the USDA.
  • This week, the Center for Food Safety continued its legal battle over an organic labeling loophole: “Hydroponic operations violate organic standards for failing to build healthy soils, and asks the Court to stop USDA from allowing hydroponically-produced crops to be sold under the USDA Organic label.”
  • A new challenge to California’s Proposition 12 warned that out-of-state pork producers will be unfairly and severely impacted by the strict standards. In December, a judge declined a North American Meat Institute challenge on the law’s constitutionality (Feedstuffs).
  • Two days after the Trump administration issued last-minute biofuel mandate waivers, Agri-Pulse shared that a federal court decision was “administratively stayed pending further order of the court” in response to an emergency motion filed by the Renewable Fuels Association.

Worth Reading.

Some important points of view worth checking out this weekend.

On Food and Race

On January 18, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, Civil Eats published a collection of recent reporting “on the connection between food, race, and civil society.” The publication dives deeply into the subject: “As the nation seeks to find its footing, we will continue to report on the fight for justice for Black and brown lives and on the ways food and agriculture can be part of a healthy democracy.”

Arms Are for Shots

On January 21, NPR’s Claire Miller reported that several retailers and manufacturers are providing cash incentives to workers who get COVID-19 vaccinations. Aldi, Dollar General, JBS/Pilgrim’s and Trader Joe’s offered employees either a few hours in comp time or as much as $100 to get the shot. Meatpacker JBS’ release underscored that its policy is voluntary and acknowledged that some team members were “less inclined” to participate.

Gates Acres Is the Place to Be

The Land Report published a ranking of America’s top landowners on January 11. Bill Gates topped the list among private farmland owners in 2020, prompting many ag-focused pubs to add their perspective. Modern Farmer writer Dan Nosowitz explained how farmland is a stable investment the wealthy use to diversify holdings and collect subsidies.

Zero-emission Cheetos

On January 14, PepsiCo joined other big names like Smithfield, Nestlé and General Mills in making bold climate action commitments. In a release, PepsiCo committed to cutting carbon emissions by 40% by 2030 and to achieving net-zero emissions by 2040, 10 years earlier than prescribed by the Paris Climate Agreement.

Chicken Sandwich Salvos

Rumors that Taco Bell would enter the chicken sandwich war were only half true. With KFC (available now) and McDonald’s (available on 2/24) both entering the ring, Taco Bell’s to-be-announced new menu items will involve fried chicken, but not the sandwich, according to a Business Insider interview with the chain’s global chief food innovation officer Liz Matthews.

… And You Thought Disney Was Expensive

Food & Wine author Mike Pomranz showcased “The Louvre” of wine collections. Owner/curator Michel-Jack Chasseuil, a 79-year-old Frenchman, charges $600 to view his 50,000-bottle suite that features some of the most rare and expensive vintages known.