FSIS issues public health alert for ineligible imported meat and poultry products from China
The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) has issued a public health alert for an undetermined amount of imported meat and poultry products from China.
A recall has not been requested because FSIS has been unable to identify and contact the importers, but the investigation does remain ongoing as the total amount of ineligible product is still undetermined.
The meat and poultry products of concern do not identify an eligible establishment number on their packaging and were not presented to FSIS for import reinspection. These products are ineligible to import into the U.S., making them unfit for human consumption.
The problem was identified through an investigation with U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) – both of which FSIS will continue working with throughout the investigation.
There have been no confirmed reports of adverse reactions due to consumption of these products, but retailers who have purchased the products are urged not to sell them, and consumers are asked to dispose of any products they may have purchased by double bagging them to reduce the possibility of animals accessing the products as USDA cannot confirm whether the products were properly heated to control pathogens that affect domestic livestock.
Hy-Vee, Kroger and other U.S. retailers accuse pork processors of price fixing
According to AgWeb, several major U.S. supermarket chains and a food distributor filed a federal lawsuit last week accusing pork processors of conspiring to fix pork prices from at least 2009 in a suit similar to other litigation facing pork and poultry companies for the last few years.
In the suit filed in the Northern District of California on Dec. 28, the plaintiffs accused the processors and their affiliates of working with Indiana Packers Corp. to “fix, raise, maintain and stabilize the price of pork” in U.S. markets in violation of the Sherman Act.
Clemens Food Group, Hormel Foods Corp., JBS USA, Seaboard Foods, Smithfield Foods Inc., Triumph Foods and Tyson Foods Inc. allegedly controlled the production and supply of pork in a coordinated effort to minimize production and boost prices by lowering the number of hog farms in operation by 70%, the suit said.
Kroger and the other plaintiffs are seeking damages “to the maximum extent allowed under law,” attorney’s fees and costs, and other relief.
Judges send Tyson workers’ virus lawsuit back to state court
According to US News, a federal appeals court has ruled that Tyson Foods can’t claim it was operating under the direction of the federal government when it tried to keep its processing plants open as the coronavirus spread rapidly within them during the early days of the pandemic.
So the Des Moines Register reports that a lawsuit filed by several families of four workers who died after contracting COVID-19 while working at Tyson’s pork processing plant in Waterloo will be heard in state court after the families allege that Tyson’s actions contributed to the deaths.
Tyson had sought to move the case to federal court because it said federal officials wanted it to keep its plants running. The company cited an executive order former President Donald Trump signed that designated meat processors as essential infrastructure.
“The fact that an entity — such as a meat processor — is subject to pervasive federal regulation alone is not sufficient to confer federal jurisdiction,” Judge Jane Kelly wrote in the decision.
The court also noted that Trump’s order was signed in late April 2020 after many of its workers were infected, before in total more than 1,000 Tyson workers at the Waterloo plant tested positive for the virus that spring and at least six died.
Tyson spokesman Gary Mickelson said the Springdale, Arkansas-based company is disappointed in the court ruling, but he defended the steps Tyson took to keep workers safe during the pandemic.
Biden-Harris Administration will dedicate $1 billion in American Rescue Plan funds for expansion of independent processing capacity
The USDA reviewed nearly 450 comments received over the summer in response to its request for input on how best to increase independent processing capacity. Through their analysis of stakeholder input, USDA identified an urgent need to:
- Expand and diversify meat and poultry processing capacity;
- Increase producer income;
- Provide producers an opportunity to have ownership in processing facilities;
- Create stable, well-paying jobs in rural regions;
- Raise the bar on worker health, safety, training, and wages for meatpacking jobs;
- Spur collaboration among producers and workers;
- Prompt state, tribal, and private co-investment; and
- Provide consumers with more choices.
To these ends, USDA has increased available funding and is releasing new program details to support the meat and poultry supply chain. Specifically, the Biden-Harris Administration will:
Expand independent processing capacity
- Increase competition and create more options for producers and consumers in the near-term by jump-starting independent processing projects that will increase competition and enhance the resiliency of the food supply chain. This new processing capacity will build momentum in a currently concentrated market. For example, 50 beef slaughter plants owned by just a handful of companies currently process nearly all the cattle in the United States. USDA will provide gap financing grants totaling up to $375 million for independent processing plant projects that fill a demonstrated need for more diversified processing capacity.
- USDA will publish a Request for Proposals for Phase I of this initiative this Spring. Phase I will invest approximately $150 million to jump-start an estimated 15 projects, focused on deploying financial support for projects with the greatest near-term impact. USDA will deploy an additional $225 million to support additional projects in Phase II, which will open in Summer 2022. USDA will also ensure these funds truly expand capacity outside the largest meat and poultry processors, funding only independent operations.
- Strengthen the financing systems for independent processors. USDA will work with lenders to make more capital available to independent processors that need credit. To address the credit access gap, USDA will deploy up to $275 million in partnership with lenders that will, in turn, provide loans and other support to businesses at rates and on terms that increase access to long-term, affordable capital. USDA will solicit applications from potential partners by Summer 2022, with an initial focus on lenders that provide financing in underserved communities.
- Back private lenders that invest in independently owned food processing and distribution infrastructure. From cold storage to specialized equipment, building a more distributed and resilient food system requires independent producers to have access to food processing and distribution infrastructure that enables them to move their product throughout the supply chain. To assist in the financing of this infrastructure, USDA has deployed $100 million in American Rescue Plan funds, to make more than $1 billion in guaranteed loans available immediately. Applications for these guaranteed loans will be accepted until funds are expended; more information on how to apply can be found here.
Support workers and the independent processor industry
- Build a pipeline of well-trained workers and support safe workplaces with fair wages. New and expanded meat and poultry processing facility capacity will create new job opportunities in rural communities. Building a well-trained workforce and ensuring that meat and poultry processing jobs are safe requires dedicated attention and investment. USDA will dedicate $100 million to support development of a well-trained workforce, safe workplaces, and good-paying, quality jobs by working closely with partner organizations, including labor unions, with expertise in workforce development and worker health and safety.
- Promote innovation and lower barriers to entry via publicly accessible expert knowledge. Meat and poultry processing is a complex and technical sector that requires strict adherence to a host of environmental, food safety, and worker safety requirements. Creating new business models that support both workers and producers is similarly complex and time-intensive. At the same time, processors need access to new and emerging innovative practices and technologies. USDA will invest an estimated $50 million in technical assistance and research and development to help independent business owners, entrepreneurs, producers, and other groups, such as cooperatives and worker associations, create new capacity or expand existing capacity.
- Provide $100 million in reduced overtime inspection costs to help small and very small processing plants keep up with unprecedented demand. With bipartisan support in Congress, USDA is reducing the financial burden of overtime and holiday inspection fees for small and very small poultry, meat, and egg processing plants, by 30 percent and 75 percent respectively, which provide farmers and ranchers with local alternatives to process livestock and poultry.
- In addition to the above investments from the American Rescue Plan, USDA has made $32 million in grants to 167 existing meat and poultry processing facilities to help them reach more customers by becoming Federally inspected through the Meat and Poultry Inspection Readiness Grants Program. With this grant funding, meat and poultry processing businesses can cover the costs for improvements, such as expanding existing facilities, modernizing processing equipment, and meeting packaging, labeling, and food safety requirements needed to achieve a Federal Grant of Inspection under the Federal Meat Inspection Act or the Poultry Products Inspection Act, or to operate under a state’s Cooperative Interstate Shipment program. These changes will allow these facilities to serve more customers in more markets. An additional round of funding for this program will be made available through a forthcoming Request for Applications.
The Biden-Harris Administration will strengthen the rules that protect farmers, ranchers, and consumers. Specifically, in 2022, the Biden-Harris Administration will:
- Issue new, stronger rules under the Packers and Stockyards Act—the law designed to combat abuses by the meatpackers and processors. The law was systematically weakened by the Trump Administration USDA, and in the Biden Administration, USDA has already begun work on three proposed rules to provide greater clarity and strengthen enforcement under the Act. USDA is also currently working with the Federal Trade Commission to prepare a report on access to retail and competition’s role in protecting new market entrants in meat processing.
- Issue new “Product of USA” labeling rules so that consumers can better understand where their meat comes from. Under current labeling rules, meat can be labeled “Product of USA” if it is only processed here—including when meat is raised overseas and then merely processed into cuts of meat here. We believe this could make it hard for American consumers to know what they are getting. USDA has already begun its top-to-bottom review of the current labeling rules and consumers’ understanding of the labels, with the goal of new rulemaking to clarify “Product of USA” standards.