Ag Briefs: COVID surge tied to WI food plant outbreaks

Colleen Kottke
Wisconsin State Farmer
Wisconsin briefs


Tractor vs. dump truck sends man to hospital

A 66-year-old man was transported to the hospital with life-threatening injuries after the tractor he was driving was struck by a dump trunk on a Vernon County highway.

According to the Vernon County Sheriff's Department, Danny E. White, of rural LaFarge was pulling a rake with his farm vehicle on Highway 82 in the town of Stark when he attempted to make a left turn onto Slayback Road and was struck by a dump truck trying to pass him.

The truck, driven by Michael Anderson of LarFarge, struck the front of White's tractor. White was thrown from the tractor when it overturned, according to the report.

White was airlifted to Gundersen Health System in La Crosse. Anderson sustained minor injuries.


Food plant tied to COVID spike

A food processing plant in Barron County is partially tied to a coronavirus outbreak among workers. According to Wisconsin Public Radio, county health officials saw a 162% increase in cases over the past two weeks.

More than 150 new cases have been reported since mid-July, nearly half of which occurred at a Seneca Foods food processing plant.

Matt Henschler, Seneca Foods senior vice president of technical services, was quoted in the county announcement as saying the company is taking a "united approach" in identifying people who have tested positive or are symptomatic.


Agricultural Fairs Rescue Act introduced

Lawmakers recently introduced the Agricultural Fairs Rescue Act to help preserve agricultural fairs across the country and offset the devastating financial losses they have experienced due to COVID-19.

According to a news release, the legislation will provide $500 million in grant funding for agricultural fairs through state departments of agriculture to keep them functioning and preserve them for the future.

The grant would be administered by the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) to states or state departments of agriculture based on the loss of attendance those fairs have experienced in 2020.

The coronavirus pandemic has triggered a domino effects of fair cancellations across the U.S. impacting both county and state fair events. 

JBS plans switch to beef at Mountain States Rosen lamb plant, leaving lamb producers high and dry


Sale of processing plant could impact lamb sales

The impending purchase and transformation of the nation’s second largest lamb processing facility has sheep producers nationwide wondering whether they will get their lambs sold this fall.

According to a report in The Fence Post, Brazilian beef packing giant JBS recently acquired Mountain States Rosen, a bankrupt lamb packing plant across the road from a JBS beef processing plant in Greeley, Colo.

JBS has said it plans to use the processing plant to grind hamburger and cut steaks, which leaves the current industry with about 350,000 more lambs than available processing facilities can handle.

About half of U.S. lamb is marketed through food service and because of the economic shutdown, that market has fallen apart, leaving farmers unable to sell as much lamb as usual.


Goats roof trademark case over

A nine-year legal battle involving the goats on the roof at Al Johnson's Swedish Restaurant Restaurant & Butik was ended by the U.S. Supreme Court.

The court decided it would not hear an appeal by New York-based attorney Todd C. Bank against the "goats on a roof of grass" trademark held by the Sister Bay restaurant.

A federal circuit court ruled Bank didn’t have any standing to bring the lawsuit, since he didn’t have a legitimate commercial interest, such as a competing trademark, and he didn’t suffer any damages from the claimed “disparaging remarks” about goats.

Goats spend the summers on the sod-covered roof, and their presence has made the restaurant a nationally known tourist attraction; they even have their own "Goat Cam" on the restaurant's website and are featured in a "Weekly Does of Goat" series on Al Johnson's was awarded the trademark in 1996.


MI orders tests on ag migrant workers after outbreaks

Michigan ordered coronavirus testing of agricultural and migrant workers, citing nearly a dozen outbreaks at farms and food-processing plants in recent weeks, according to an Associated Press report.

Under the emergency order issued by the state Department of Health and Human Services, migrant housing camp operators must do initial baseline testing of all residents age 18 and older. New residents must be tested within 48 hours of their arrival, be provided separate housing and get a second test 10 to 14 days after arriving.

The study cited 11 recent identified outbreaks in farms and food processing plants, and said Latinos are 5% of Michigan's population but account for 11% of virus cases in which the individual's ethnicity is identified.


China eliminates U.S. dairy plant audits for registration

US Dairy Export Council recently announced that effective July 1, the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) plant audit required for dairy and infant formula plant registration will be eliminated.

The change follows commitments made under the Economic and Trade Agreement between the United States and China.  AMS will cease conducting the audits, easing the regulatory and financial burden of U.S. dairy suppliers exporting to China. 

In order to be eligible to export to China, U.S. dairy companies must continue to file an application with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) using the Unified Registration and Listing Systems (FURLS)  Export Listing Module (ELM). 


Pork Checkoff funds ASF research in Vietnam

The National Pork Board has approved three projects, totaling $362,555, to research African swine fever (ASF) in Vietnam. The projects are:  

Evaluation of the performance of ELISA for ASF-antibodies detection and its potential use in the U.S. swine industry, University of Minnesota 

Investigating methods for decontamination of interior surfaces (cabs) of transportation vehicles, Kansas State University 

ASF virus inactivation in compost and its persistence in swine slurry, research in Vietnam through the University of Maine.


Drought parches much of Colorado

A year after most of Colorado was drought-free, nearly all of the state is now experiencing a dry spell, according to data released by the U.S. Drought Monitor. 

The western corners of the state were abnormally dry during the summer of 2019, but the rest experienced no drought. Now, every part of the state except a sliver of Weld County is parched, The Colorado Sun reported Monday.

Drought monitor author Richard Heim said it will take several years of heavy rain for the state to return to 2019 figures. 

Conditions have deteriorated over the past year due to drier conditions, warmer temperatures and a higher level of evaporation. An unusually dry winter and spring is also to blame. 


First lawsuit in the red onion salmonella outbreak filed

A lawsuit has been filed in the red onion salmonella outbreak on behalf of a woman who was hospitalized for 12 days for acute salmonellosis.

According to the CDC, as of July 31st, there were 396 laboratory-confirmed salmonella victims associated with this outbreak in 34 states, including at least 59 who have been hospitalized. Salmonella is a bacteria that is usually transmitted through human feces.

National food poisoning lawyer Ron Simon released a statement saying the outbreak has been linked to Thomson International, Inc. of Bakersfield, CA., and is likely to be the largest salmonella outbreak of 2020.

In response to the investigation Thomson International, Inc. initiated a voluntary recall of all of its onion products. The recall was announced on August 1, 2020, and it includes Red, Yellow, White, and Sweet Yellow Onions shipped by Thomson International, Inc. from May 1, 2020 through the present.