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Our first newsletter of the year brings you an important story co-published with USA Today on the lack of OSHA investigations at meatpacking plants. Dave Dickey gives his take on what 2021 will bring and we also bring you news about our growing staff as we welcome two new reporters.

We send this to you at a time our country is in the midst of an alarming turmoil. We hope that you are all able to stay safe and healthy in these times.

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

By Kyle Bagenstose and Rachel Axon, USA TODAY; Sky Chadde, Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting 

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. 

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By Dave Dickey, Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting 

OK...it's once again time for your audacious commentator to give his hot takes on the agriculture stories that will make news in 2021. This year I've enlisted the help of Homer Simpson who truly knows something about predicting agricultural events before they happened (witness the Simpson take on a horsemeat scandal and the invention of the “tomacco plant”).  And if that doesn't work, I've got a whole new box of fortune-telling goodies including a crystal sphere, my grandmother's tea cup and a rooster.

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Midwest Center News

We are delighted to announce that our Managing Editor, Sky Chadde, along with his co-writers, Rachel Axon, Kyle Bagenstose and Kevin Crowe, of USA TODAY, have been awarded the Outstanding Occupational Safety and Health News Story of the Year by the AIHA Social  for their story, They Think Workers Are Like Dogs.’ How Pork Plant Execs Sacrificed Safety for Profits. As part of the award they will present the Upton Sinclair Memorial Lecture at the AIHA conference later this year. Congratulations to Sky, Rachel, Kyle and Kevin!

At the end of last year we promised you more stories, more reporters and more truth in 2021. We have already started to make good on that promise. We are delighted to have two new reporters in our newsroom. Please welcome Ignacio Calderon and Madison McVan and take a minute to learn a bit about them.

Ignacio Calderon, Midwest Center USA TODAY Agriculture Data Fellowis a recent graduate from Columbia College Chicago where he earned a Bachelor of Arts in Photojournalism with a focus on documentary filmmaking. Originally from Bolivia, he is a bilingual journalist that has been covering local climate activism groups and Chicago nursing homes for his student newspaper. After taking his first journalism class with Sam Roe, Ignacio was inspired to pursue investigative and data journalism where he has earned national collegiate awards and has collaborated with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. He aims to use visual and data journalism to bring tangible change in his community. 

What drew you to journalism?
Almost 4 years ago, I left my home country of Bolivia to pursue my undergraduate education. I remember coming back from a vacation and the news broke about the Amazon rainforest’s raging fires. As someone with a deep connection to nature, this was an inflection point in my career. I promised myself to use journalism— from traditional reporting, to photo, video and data analysis— as the craft by which I bring truth to life. My mission is to inform the public on the environmental status of the globe and inspire people to take action that leads to positive change in my community. 

Why did you want to work for Midwest?
Investigate Midwest represents all the core values of great journalism— a public service that educates the community on pressing issues with a base in reporting and data. It will also be an excellent opportunity to grow as a journalist and learning more about the intersection between agriculture and climate change while bringing a strong visual and data background to our stories. 

What do you think, in this age of pandemic, will be the biggest stories in covering agribusiness and the food supply this year?
I think that this year will be another period filled with transitions. With a new administration that aims to mitigate the effects of the pandemic while strengthening the economy and shifting to clean energy, it will be interesting to see the actions to accomplish this and the new relationship with the Food and Agriculture Climate Alliance.

Madison McVan, Midwest Center Investigative Reporter graduated from the University of Missouri in 2020 with degrees in Journalism and Latin American Studies. Before joining the Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting, she worked for the Columbia Missourian and Missouri Info Corps, covering topics including state and local government, meatpacking plants and the coronavirus pandemic. She is fluent in Spanish and has published work in both Spanish and English. Originally from Pflugerville, Texas, she is now based in the Twin Cities.

What drew you to journalism?
I always wanted to help people, but I knew I wouldn't make a very good doctor or firefighter or therapist. I've always been best at writing, and journalism provides me a way to challenge power structures and lift up marginalized groups.

Why did you want to work for Midwest?
I wanted to work for Midwest because I think both the region and the topic — agriculture — could use more investigation. While other markets like DC and New York are flooded with journalists, the Midwest Center focuses on people and topics that have often been overlooked by legacy media. 

What do you think, in this age of pandemic, will be the biggest stories in covering agribusiness and the food supply this year?
With the massive amounts of COVID relief money that has been spent by the federal and state governments, I believe there will be many opportunities for misuse of taxpayer dollars. I think there will be plenty of stories that come from COVID relief money in agriculture, in addition to keeping an eye on the working conditions for farm and meatpacking workers that maintain our food supply.

Madison, McVan, Investigative Reporter, graduated from the University of Missouri in 2020 with degrees in Journalism and Latin American Studies. Before joining the Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting, she worked for the Columbia Missourian and Missouri Info Corps, covering topics including state and local government, meatpacking plants and the coronavirus pandemic. She is fluent in Spanish and has published work in both Spanish and English. Originally from Pflugerville, Texas, she is now based in the Twin Cities.

What drew you to journalism?
I always wanted to help people, but I knew I wouldn't make a very good doctor or firefighter or therapist. I've always been best at writing, and journalism provides me a way to challenge power structures and lift up marginalized groups.

Why did you want to work for Midwest?
I wanted to work for Midwest because I think both the region and the topic — agriculture — could use more investigation. While other markets like DC and New York are flooded with journalists, the Midwest Center focuses on people and topics that have often been overlooked by legacy media. 

What do you think, in this age of pandemic, will be the biggest stories in covering agribusiness and the food supply this year?
With the massive amounts of COVID relief money that has been spent by the federal and state governments, I believe there will be many opportunities for misuse of taxpayer dollars. I think there will be plenty of stories that come from COVID relief money in agriculture, in addition to keeping an eye on the working conditions for farm and meatpacking workers that maintain our food supply.

Did you miss these stories?

‘Buy it or else’: Inside Monsanto and BASF’s moves to force dicamba on farmers

Midwest Center sensors find potentially hazardous pesticides near schools, parks and homes

Long distances and stigma: Telehealth seen as way for farmers to access needed mental health assistance

Cheap chicken, beef came at a cost. How American meat plants bred coronavirus hot spots

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