The US produce sector is alarmed by the growing number of coronavirus cases reported among fruit and vegetable packers, according to Reuters. Besides the health risks to staff, the problem is leading to labour shortages that threaten to disrupt US produce supplies. Health officials in the state of Washington report 600 agricultural workers testing positive for Covid-19 in Yakima Country in May, 62% of whom were from the apple industry. For figure until 10th June, the county had the highest per-capita infection rate on the west coast of the US. In Monterey County, California, known for its high concentration of vegetable farms, 39% of all Covid-19 cases were among agricultural workers.
And it’s not only on the west coast that there’s a problem. Immokalee (Florida), a tomato production hub, has also reported a spike in coronavirus cases. Given the importance of the fresh produce industry, the USDA and the FDA have said the government could use the Defense Production Act to protect fruit and vegetable packhouses and keep them in operation. The act would allow packers some liability protection should their employees fall sick with the virus.