A consolidated market leaves ranchers wondering what’s next

While consumers pay high beef prices at the grocery store, very little has trickled down to ranchers — in fact, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the gap between the retail price for beef and the price producers receive is the largest it's ever been. In interviews, eight ranchers in seven states agreed their profits have stagnated or even decreased, while the meatpacking companies — which buy the animals for slaughter, then package the meat to be sold at grocery stores — have benefited.

Trump ag secretary Sonny Perdue personally lobbied to keep meatpacking plants open during pandemic, emails show

It’s well-established that Trump administration officials wanted meatpacking plants to keep operating, often with industry pressure, as workers fell ill and died by the dozens. But new emails obtained by nonprofit Public Citizen show Perdue personally lobbying to keep plants open, including pressing Robert Redfield, the former Centers for Disease Control and Prevention director.

Opinion: Tyson’s attempts to litigate COVID in federal courts a scam

All through 2020, Big Meat and the Trump White House abused immigrants and low-income people working at the nation's slaughterhouses, all but physically forcing them to work in a cauldron pot of coronavirus. The White House named meat packers essential workers while Big Meat failed to do enough to protect its on-line employees from COVID-19. Predictably, avoidable illness and death followed. Now comes litigation.

And the beat goes on (but did you expect different?)

Of course, they denied it. We didn't do anything wrong. There ain't any liability! Such was the tired worn-out rhetoric of Pilgrim's Pride Corporation and Tyson Foods, Inc in agreeing to settle a long-running civil suit filed by Maplevale Farms claiming the two Big-Meat giants fixed prices on broiler chickens.

COVID-19 deaths go uninvestigated as OSHA takes a hands-off approach to meatpacking plants

Normally, a workplace death in the United States is met with a swift and thorough response. 

By law, employers must report a death within eight hours to the U.S. Occupational Health and Safety Administration. An inspector from OSHA typically arrives within a day to interview workers, review the site of the incident, and determine whether the death resulted from unsafe conditions. For workers in the meatpacking industry during the COVID-19 pandemic, however, the system of swift reporting and next-day inspections that should protect them has broken down. 

At least 239 meatpacking workers have died and 45,000 have contracted the coronavirus since the start of the pandemic, according to tracking by the Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting. But companies reported less than half that number of deaths to OSHA, a joint investigation by USA TODAY and the Midwest Center found. Experts say that's in large part because the agency weakened reporting requirements during the pandemic. 

Even fewer deaths triggered the kind of robust investigation OSHA typically conducted before the pandemic.

Opinion: The top agricultural story of 2020 is…

In a normal year we would be debating several worthy agricultural stories as the most important. We certainly would be taking a hard look at the continuing dicamba herbicide saga. 2020 saw the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit de-register dicamba formulations in the middle of the growing season from Bayer AG, Corteva, and BASF because of shoddy regulatory control at the Environmental Protection Agency: