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Tag Archives: Food & Beverage

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Restaurants need creative solutions to social distancing

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Restaurants have been hit extremely hard by the COVID-19 pandemic. As states started crawling back to reopening, a second, more infectious wave has hit most parts of the country.

Many states are dreading a second shutdown and wonder if their restaurants will survive at all this time around. America recorded a staggering number of unemployment filings in March and April, but as the lockdown eased in June, 4.8 million went back. Out of those, 30% of the jobs were from bars and restaurants.

As the pandemic evolved, eateries around the country began to think of new ways to serve their patrons. First, they started curbside pickup, registering with delivery apps to survive. Most had to overhaul their ordering system to accommodate the takeout business.

As the lockdowns eased, some set up a temporary dining spaces for an outdoor dining that were socially distanced and did not crowd sidewalks. In places like Clinton, New York, the community came up with common outdoor dining spaces in parking lots, with tables placed 6 feet apart.

All businesses in the category, such as culinary schools, wineries, restaurants, bars, and food tour companies, are getting creative in the new dining and traveling era. Those that cater to out-of-towners like distilleries and breweries face even harder challenges.

Distilleries, breweries, and wineries are trying to rethink their tasting-room experience. Outdoor seating and reservations-only rules will allow them to utilize outdoor space for a “touchless” experience.

Most are moving operations outdoors with social distancing rules, and groups are limited to between three and six people. Some are offering new tasting packages that include paired “provisions” boxes. Payment is prepaid and online, and guests are encouraged to wear masks and prepare to dine with a low-contact experience.

Tours, however, remain a problem. Distilleries want to protect their workers because the tours are generally up close and personal and may not be worth the risk. Some larger distilleries plan on reducing tour size, while others are suspending tours.

Cooking schools have taken a big hit with the lockdown. The ones that could shift to online classes, however, have seen their students’ reach expand globally.

Culinary-tour businesses are focusing on a private basis to start, with adjustments made to avoid restaurants at peak times and keep everyone outside as much as possible. But this fragmented reopening may not be worth the effort for all business owners.

In normal circumstances, food tour businesses would take groups of 10 or so people through roughly five or six establishments through a designated path, making scheduled stops. But since the shutdown, these businesses have suffered and have had to adapt in different ways.

Across the Atlantic, Bar Douro in London faced COVID-19 by diversifying. During the lockdown, it focused on developing an online wine retail division instead of liquidating.

Big names like Eataly currently rely on backup plans based on their European operations’ insights on how to keep stores open with increased sanitary and safety measures along with social distancing.

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Federal agency sets final rule on truckers’ hours of service

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Truck driving is known as one of the world’s most dangerous professions.

Yet, drivers of large, heavy trucks must regularly meet tight deadlines set by shippers and receivers to deliver goods to warehouses and other customers on time, and fatigue can make truckers’ jobs both difficult and risky. In fact, according to a federal study by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 13% of commercial motor vehicle drivers experienced fatigue at the time of their crash on the road.

To help keep fatigued and drowsy drivers of commercial motor vehicles off the road, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) sets hours of service (HOS) regulations for truck drivers. HOS rules control when truckers can drive each day, the maximum number of hours they can drive in a day and when they have to take breaks.

But this spring, the FMCSA presented its final rule on updates to the HOS rules to give drivers more flexibility in the regulation regarding when and how long they can take breaks.

“America’s truckers are doing a heroic job keeping our supply chains open during this unprecedented time and these rules will provide them greater flexibility to keep America moving,” U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine L. Chao said in a statement.

The FMCSA’s final rule includes adding two hours to truckers’ allowable on-duty time, from 12 hours to 14 hours, and bumps up the number of miles drivers can travel in a day from 100 air miles to 150.

The final rule also gives drivers more flexibility over their required break times. Drivers are currently required to take a 30-minute break after eight consecutive hours of driving. But under the new rule, they will be allowed to perform other on-duty tasks that don’t involve driving during their half-hour break.

Moreover, drivers will also have greater control over their free time. The updated rulewill let drivers split their 10 hours of required off-duty time into an eight- and two-hour split or a seven- and three-hour split without it counting against the 14 hours of driving time allowed in a day.

Another modification has to do with how truckers manage under adverse driving conditions, which can include unexpected inclement weather conditions like fog, icy roads, or a heavy snowfall or a road shutdown due to a traffic accident. The FMCSA’s modernized rule will let truckers who experience such adverse conditions drive two hours more than the maximum hours allowed under normal driving conditions.

The rule change comes after the FMCSA first issued a notice of proposed rulemaking in 2018 to receive public comments. The agency later reported receiving more than 2,800 public comments.

The FMCSA says that by allowing more flexibility in the HOS for the trucking industry, the changes will produce a cost savings of $274 million for the U.S. economy and for consumers. The FMCSA reports that trucking industry in the United States employs some seven million people.

The industry, including groups like the American Trucking Associations, the largest national trade association for the trucking industry, and the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA), have supported the FMCSA’s proposed rule change. The OOIDA, in fact, called for changes to the rules in 2018 during the comment period.

In a 2019 statement, Todd Spencer, president of the OOIDA, said, “Truck drivers know better than anyone when they should take a break or when road conditions are too dangerous. They ask for flexibility not only for themselves, but also for the safety of all highway users.

“For too long we’ve allowed people that have never spent time in a truck to dictate a driver’s daily schedule,” Spencer said. “This has to stop.”

The final rule will go into effect 120 days after publication in the Federal Register.

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As humans search for higher agricultural yields, their waste may flush a stinky situation

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It’s a subject none of us care to discuss even though it’s part of our daily lives: human waste. This basic product of human existence has, for thousands of years, been little more than waste to be managed or done away with.

Nevertheless, human waste, like its bovine counterpart, may be exceedingly valuable for sustainable agricultural purposes. So says science.

Researchers from Cornell University’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and the Canadian Light Source at the University of Saskatchewan may have discovered it’s possible to create nitrogen-rich fertilizer by combining the solid and liquid components of human waste.

Published in the journal Sustainable Chemistry and Engineering, our waste may increase crop yields in developing countries and reduce contamination of groundwater caused by nitrogen runoff. Nitrogen is part of chemical fertilizers.

Such “fertilizer” could help farmers produce higher yields with less ground, or the same ground currently used without the need for additional deforestation, for example.

The discovery came to fruition when researchers, determined to find a sustainable way to include nitrogen in the human solid waste, recycled the nitrogen in the urine and adding it to the solid waste. Before this, urine was lost to runoff, and the solid waste on its own lack the key nutrient.

The researchers heated the solid component of human waste in the absence of oxygen to produce a pathogen-free charcoal called biochar. Next, they manipulated the biochar’s surface by priming it with CO2, enabling it to soak up ammonia, the nitrogen-rich gas given off by urine. By repeating the process, they loaded up the biochar with additional nitrogen, resulting in a solid material rich in nitrogen.

Previous research engineered high-tech adsorbers, but the researchers in this case wanted a low-tech approach. Adsorbers are materials whose surfaces can capture and hold gas or liquids.

The research team showed it is possible to make fertilizer from human waste, but more must still be done; primarily, how will this human-powered fertilizer compare to existing commercial nitrogen fertilizers for different crops and soils? And can a cost-effective solution be delivered to perform this process automatically in a real-world setting?

Such a solution could radically alter the face of farming in developing countries. This is particularly important because, as the world’s population soars, findings by the University of Maryland — released by Global Forest Watch — suggest through satellite and online forest monitoring that 2019 was the third highest year for losses of tropical primary forest since the turn of the century.

Among the most significant areas of loss include Brazil, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Bolivia. Agriculture primarily to blame in all three countries.

If human waste can reasonably be made into fertilizer fit for agricultural use, the crappy business of clear-cutting forests to increase arable land to increase yields may help turn a stinky situation onto one that’s a little rosier.

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Why your company’s culture matters — especially in the throes of COVID-19

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I asked a group of company leaders what the most important factor is in their company’s success. Without hesitation and unanimously, they answered: culture. I followed that question with another question, “If culture is the most important ingredient to success, what have you done to define, develop, and disseminate your culture so it becomes part of the organizational DNA?”

One leader responded by saying, “We are just lucky that we attract great employees.” Another said, “My team just knows how to treat each other, and our strong culture is simply organic.” I then asked: “If you were interviewing a salesperson and you asked what the most important component of their success was, and they said, ‘People just gravitate to me and I guess it’s just natural and organic’… Would you hire them?”

With the outbreak of COVID-19, organizational culture was tested with a rapid change from working together on site to working at home. Companies with a strong, intentional culture were able to swiftly implement work-from-home practices since their culture was stronger than the process. On the other hand, organizations with a weak culture struggled with employee productivity and motivation when the surrounding environment changed.

In truth, cultureis the most important ingredient to success and your company cannot realize its potential without having an intentionally designed, foundational culture. Here are some tips for developing a culture that connects, motivates, challenges, and aligns organizations:

Shift from Vision to Cause.

In his book “Culture Trumps Everything,” Dr. Gustavo Grodnitsky says people work harder for a cause than for cash. Working for a cause is much more stimulating than working for the CEO’s vision. The millennials are focused on working for a cause and when they hear the word vision, they think of some old school platitude that originated several decades ago. They rarely interpret the organization’s vision as something they want to spend most of their waking time pursuing.

When I take companies through the Culture Component of The Blendification® System, we develop a clear Statement of Cause. The Statement of Cause highlights a future based on the organization’s societal impact. Companies with a strong Statement of Cause that becomes embedded in the organization’s DNA use this as motivation when they are faced with challenges.

When COVID-19 struck, companies with a strong Statement of Cause simply kept their focus on their impact. The pandemic temporarily disrupted their short-term actions; it did not change their cause.

Build a Statement of Intention for Employees, Customers, and Communities.

Most vision and mission statements are dreams evolving from books written in the 1990s. They are either focused on world dominance or some level of profit and shareholder value maximization. Millennials do not trust these statements. There is typically no mention of the company’s impact the company on its three main stakeholders: employees, customers, and communities.

A Statement of Intention creates a commitment to these three groups. Intention creates a level of accountability to real groups of people. Companies that build a solid Statement of Intention outline what they are committed to as it relates to the employees from a growth and development perspective, their customers from a product and service perspective, and their communities from an impact perspective.

While the Statement of Intention is not a goal, there is inherent accountability as the company states what its true intention is for these key stakeholders. This commitment evolves from and aligns with the Statement of Cause. This second step in intentionally defining and designing your culture also aligns and motivates the employees as there is a clear connection to the groups they care about most.

Establish Desired Behaviors and Habits.

At the core of culture is behaviors and habits. Since that is the foundation of culture, then why don’t we build culture based on the desired behaviors and habits? Companies that are truly serious about their culture and its connection to success record the specific behaviors and habits they want to see active inside company meetings, employee communication and support, customer interactions, community engagement, and more.

Make Culture Part of Routines.

Once the desired culture is designed following the three steps above, you still haven’t created a culture. For your defined culture to become part of your active culture, you have to disseminate it through daily routines. Many companies do daily lineups, but most of these are either sales or task-based meetings.

The Ritz-Carlton organization does a daily lineup solely focused on culture and how employees interact with each other and guests. The company’s motto is, “We are Ladies and Gentlemen serving Ladies and Gentlemen.” Each day, every Ritz-Carlton employee meets with coworkers and shares a specific example that relates to their internal and external service excellence. When organizations take culture seriously, they will make it part of their routines.

Culture has always been the most important factor in determining organizational success. While leaders have known this, there hasn’t been a systematic process to define, develop, and disseminate a desired culture as outlined above. Culture mostly receives lip service, but it needs to be reinforced by having a strong Statement of Cause, Statement of Intention, and corresponding Behaviors and Habits.

This became more obvious when COVID-19 forced people to shift from working in an office to home. With the exception of technology modifications, companies with a defined culture that was part of the operational DNA were successful in responding quickly and seamlessly transitioned to a different work structure.

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Airport concessions in crisis as coronavirus takes toll on air travel

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Victims of the coronavirus outbreak and its effect on air travel include the thousands of airport concessions across the country, and indeed the world, that have been forced to endure closure and laying off employees or, if still open, next to minimal sales.

Now, with airports and airlines receiving funds to help them through these difficult times, airport concessions are also calling on the government to recognize their plight and provide relief before many are forced out of business.

Business at airport concessions varies across the country, with some hub airports still operating a reasonable schedule of flights and others closed down completely, awaiting a return of passengers.

Regardless, even in the busier airports sales and revenues have dropped by 90% or more.

The Airport Restaurant and Retail Association (ARRA) said that in April only $38 million in sales was done across America’s airports, compared to $825 million a year earlier.

Airports so far have been allocated $10 billion in grant funding to support them through the crisis (with $50 billion allocated to airlines). However, none of the shops, restaurants, bars and parking operators are airports are eligible for a slice of this funding.

Many concessions across the country have received unofficial relief from airports and those managing retail space by offering rent reductions or deferments.

However, ARRA is asking for government support to keep businesses alive through these difficult times. It argues that funding is desperately needed to allow businesses to reopen, pay wages and rehire furloughed employees, as well as ensuring stricter safety and sterilization — and associated training — is adhered to.

The Association wants $5 billion in loans and grants to be made available to an industry that employed 125,000 people before the virus struck. Of these, only around 5% are thought to be currently employed.

With some of the highest rents among retail premises, airport concessions have also been limited compared to nonairport businesses in that they cannot adapt and offer takeaways, deliveries or online ordering.

ARRA Executive Director Rob Wigington said: “If operators are required to pay rent with no sales for any period, ALL operators will eventually fail. The only differentiating factor will be the exact moment when each company drains its cash resources.”

Thankfully the message seems to be getting through, with the Chicago Department of Aviation announcing a program of financial aid to concessionaires at O’Hare and Midway airports.

Chicago Mayor Lori E. Lightfoot said, “The slowdown in travel has had a profound impact on these businesses, and we are determined to provide the kind of assistance that ultimately may make the difference between staying in business or closing for good.”

In recent years airport concessions have seen a shift away from the dominance of national chains towards local brands and businesses. Mayor Lightfoot said: “Many airport concessionaires are small, local, and diverse businesses. They are the lifeblood of our airports, providing local flavor and culture to the traveler experience.”

The problem is not unique to the United States, with airports across the world being called to help concessions and private airport service providers. As airlines look to increase flights from June, it could mean retail within airport terminals begins the slow return to healthier sales, but some will unfortunately succumb or never reopen without further support.

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Chia or flax: Which is better for your health?

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Acai, blueberries, hemp, moringa, cacao, maca, alfalfa…the list goes on and on. It can be difficult to decipher which superfoods you should be investing in with so many on the market. Let’s tackle chia and flax and decide which one is better for you.

Chia Seeds

Chia seeds come from the Salvia hispanica plant. This plant is part of the mint family, and it’s native to Central America. Most people recognize chia seeds as the brown, white, or black dots that triple in size and soften as they absorb liquid.

Nutrients

Chia seeds are packed with important nutrients. In a one ounce serving, you’ll find fiber, protein, omega-3 fats, calcium, magnesium, manganese, phosphorous, zinc, potassium, and B-vitamins.

In fact, in just a single, one-ounce serving of chia, you can meet approximately 30% of the recommended daily intake of manganese, magnesium, and phosphorous.

Research

Many studies have looked at the benefits of chia. One study published in the journal of Plant Foods for Human Nutrition found chia flour to be an effective way to reduce blood pressure.

Another study published in Nutrition Research and Practice demonstrated chia stimulates satiety. So, those looking to cut calories could probably benefit from eating chia.

Of course, these aren’t the only benefits associated with chia. The Mayans and Aztecs ate chia to give them energy.

Consumption

Popular ways to eat chia include putting chia on yogurt, adding chia to smoothies, and making chia pudding. Making chia pudding can be as simple as adding chia and syrup to almond milk and letting it sit in the fridge for eight hours. Enjoy chia ground to get the most out of what these seeds offer.

Flaxseed

Nutrients

Flaxseeds contain omega-3 fats, B-vitamins, calcium, folate, iron, magnesium, phosphorous, potassium, and fiber.

Flaxseeds are also a significant source of lignans — plant compounds with anti-cancer properties.

Research

The benefits of flaxseed abound — from weight loss and help for sensitive skin to hypertension and inflammation, flax can help.

A study published in Obesity Reviews conducted a meta-analysis on flaxseed consumption and weight loss. They found that flaxseed consumption had a positive effect on weight loss and waist circumference. The authors concluded that whole flaxseeds assist with weight management and can be particularly beneficial for overweight and obese people.

Research published in Skin Pharmacology and Physiology showed that flaxseed oil improved skin sensitivity and appearance. Smoothness and hydration were positively affected by flaxseed oil.

Hypertension published a study showing promising results for flaxseed as a way to lower blood pressure. The study observed 110 patients using a prospective, double-blind, placebo-controlled, randomized trial design. Participants ate various foods containing 30 grams of milled flaxseeds or a placebo every day for six months.

Plasma omega-3 fatty acid levels increased in the flaxseed group. The flaxseed group’s systolic and diastolic blood pressure were also 10 mm Hg and 7 mm Hg lower, respectively, at the end of the study, compared to the blood pressures in the placebo group.

Flaxseed even helps fight against natural signs of aging. A study published in Experimental Gerontology showed that flaxseed could disrupt changes associated with inflammation and aging.

Consumption

Both ground and whole flaxseeds are easily added to yogurt, smoothies, and baked goods. Though, it may be easier to add ground flaxseed to smoothies depending on the strength of your blender. You’ll enjoy more of the benefits of flaxseeds by consuming them ground.

Conclusion

Chia and flax both confer a wide range of health benefits. Flaxseed has more bang for your buck when it comes to getting omega-3s, but chia has the advantage if you’re looking to consume fiber.

Nevertheless, flaxseed may be the overall winner because of its additional effects as an anti-cancer agent and appetite suppressant. Plus, flaxseed is almost always cheaper than chia seeds.

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As many struggle, some small businesses are thriving during COVID-19

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For a pandemic that has been particularly bad for small businesses across the country, some sectors of the economy are using these months as a revival of sorts. As the demands of consumers have changed, some stagnant industries are getting a second chance.

Economists have noted this trend is not uncommon in times like these. In nearly every major economic downturn, there are some small businesses that manage to provide exactly what the economy needs. Rashmi Menon, an economist at the University of Michigan, said that Airbnb, Uber and Venmo are all products of an economic crisis.

“Downturns or challenging times are seen as good times (for some) business for two reasons,” Menon said. “One is, there is less competition for resources. The second reason is that whatever changes we face, positive or negative, bring up new customer needs. And customer needs are at the core of any business.”

In 2020, delivery services and cleaning services have benefitted the most. Crystal Hughey, a co-owner of a cleaning service in Ohio, said her business has seen some of its greatest numbers since the pandemic arose. Ryan Van Orden, an owner of a similar company in New Hampshire, echoed that call.

“Our clients want more frequent deep cleanings,” Van Orden said. “We are hiring to make sure we can deal with the demand.”

Most delivery services are also hiring. But growth for small businesses has not been limited to these two sectors. Other essential services, such as canned and jarred food companies, meal prep delivery services and grocery stores, have also seen an uptick.

The president of the National Grocers Association, Greg Ferrara, indicated that with fewer people ordering from restaurants, it has created a larger demand that he can remember. While many restaurants are still doing takeout, consumers have opted for the cheaper and more isolated option of making food at home.

“Independent grocers are helping larger chains meet demand during this time and grocery stores are being restocked at unprecedented speeds,” Ferrara said in an interview with NBC.

Some socially distanced forms of entertainment have also been on the rise. It has been well-documented that drive-in movie theaters have gone back in style. Americans in particular have been looking for safer forms of interaction and ways to get out of the home.

Beau Bianchi, an owner of a drive-in movie theater in California, has said his business has been ready to meet the moment, even if he didn’t see it coming.

“(Our business) has been a welcome relief for families and adults looking for a little getaway from the house,” Bianchi said. “We’ve been trying to let people know that we have a safe environment and offer a little escape.”

But perhaps the industry that has seen the largest increase in the entertainment sector has been wine and liquor stores. Bars in most places have been closed for almost two months now, leading to the obvious transition.

Whether these trends continue as shelter-in-place orders are eased across the country remains to be seen. As of now, though, these industries are hiring and growing at rates most workers have not seen.

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Preventing hate crimes: If you see something, say something

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After 9/11, when it became apparent we had to change our approach to security in the skies, as well as on the ground, the TSA was formed to manage new airport passenger screening protocols. A wave of mass shootings has led to enhanced security systems in public buildings. In many places, all visitors go through X-ray screening to gain access.

Because these measures alone can’t stop bad actors, we know we all have to be vigilant to what’s going on around us. If we see something, we have to say something.

Now, we need to be on alert for a different type of threat. The number of hate crimes in the United States has risen consistently for the last three years. The Department of Justice says that nearly 60% of these attacks are motivated by race, ethnicity, or ancestry bias.

In the last few weeks, we’ve seen horrific video evidence of inappropriate use of force against unarmed black men. This pattern is not new — it’s just the ubiquity of cellphone cameras and social media now provides clear video documentation. The massive protests across the country since the death of George Floyd result from frustration that the same issue continues to occur over and over again.

This situation is not limited to African Americans. Asian Americans are suffering increased discrimination, due to inaccurate beliefs that the pandemic was caused by a “Chinese virus.” Muslim Americans have faced violence and discrimination because of false rumors they are all terrorists.

Hispanic Americans have been mislabeled as all criminals and rapists. And now we have violent altercations between those who believe masks should be worn in public to prevent the spread of coronavirus and those who say this infringes on their personal freedom.

What can we as businesspeople do in these situations? When and how should we get involved? Here are a few guidelines:

Be clear that acts of bigotry and violence are not acceptable. This means clearly reminding those in your employ that this behavior is not acceptable and will not be excused or tolerated. Such acts will have severe consequences.

Don’t tolerate unacceptable behavior anywhere in your ecosystem. This means when you are aware of such incidents — whether within your supply chain, with partners or with customers — you are clear about where you stand. Letting even a verbal attack on a customer or employee go without proper investigation allows the problem to grow and fester.

Be public about where you stand. Reach out to your communities — both in your local area, as well an industry or trade association. There’s strength in numbers. How can you work with others to improve the environment for everyone?

Create opportunities for education and learning. Not everyone who exhibits bias does it out of malice or with bad intent. Many of us never consider how an offhand action or comment might be hurtful to others. Becoming aware of how we impact others allows us to act more appropriately in the future.

Edmond Burke said, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” When we see something, it is our responsibility to say something.

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Pandemic origin controversy aside, Wuhan still harbors zoonotic viruses

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With global cases of COVID-19 pushing past 3 million — and with approximately a quarter-million deaths — the precise origin of this stealthy virus remains up for debate.

While it is certain to have emerged from the central China city of Wuhan, most but not all experts agree that the virus spread from one of the city’s “wet markets.” These sprawling outdoor markets are similar to farmers’ markets in the West except that, in addition to produce, the typical Chinese wet market includes the live slaughter of animals and the sale of wildlife.

Scientists do, however, seem to concur that the disease evolved from bats — nature’s only flying mammal — one common to the region and to the diet of many locals.

A different school of thought, reportedly sparked by unnamed U.S. intelligence sources, claims the virus escaped from a high-security virology lab in Wuhan. Spread by Fox News, conservative talk shows and a host of online conspiracy theorists, the story has gained intensity — despite the lack of any tangible evidence of a lab leak — and the strong denial of a breach by the Chinese government and the World Health Organization (WHO).

Most experts believe that what occurred was a natural, animal-to-human spread of the virus — almost certainly originating from live and/or wild animals sold at one of Wuhan’s traditional wet markets. Scientists further reason that transmission of the deadly disease was facilitated via an intermediary species, namely bats.

“The idea that this virus escaped from a lab is just pure baloney,” says Peter Daszak, disease ecologist and president of EcoHealth Alliance, a nonprofit that works globally to combat infectious diseases. “I’ve been working with that Wuhan lab for 15 years. It is a very well-run lab, staffed by some of the best scientists in the world. There was no viral isolate in the lab. There was no cultured coronavirus. So, a leak was just not possible.”

Daszak also decries the politicization of the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“During every outbreak of a novel virus, somebody somewhere says it was manufactured in a lab, and that’s really unfortunate,” says Daszak. “There are people out there who still believe HIV is a bioengineered virus that spread around the world.”

Eco-Alliance’s studies surrounding the origin of emerging diseases reveal that more than 75% of new diseases — including such pandemic viruses as severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), H1N1 flu and Ebola — originated in wildlife.

Bats may be the planet’s most proficient virus carriers but every species of wildlife carries viruses that are a natural part of its biology, much like the common cold is to humans. While these viruses don’t have much effect on species in the wild, when we make contact with them we can pick up those viruses — and they can be lethal as clearly evidenced by the current coronavirus pandemic.

Daszak points out that there are an estimated 1.7 million viruses circulating in wildlife and with such diversity there’s just no telling what diseases might emerge in the future.

“The way to deal with this is not to wait for them to emerge,” says Daszak. “The way to do it is to get out there ahead of the curve, find out what’s out there in wildlife, find out who’s at risk, work with people on the frontline and reduce that risk.”

Another expert who expounds on the need for a global proactive approach in dealing with the coronavirus pandemic is Dr. Dennis Carroll, formerly the senior infectious disease adviser at the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). For decades, Carroll was the leading voice on the threat of “zoonotic spillover,” the transmission of pathogens from animals to humans.

Carroll recognized that emerging infectious diseases, far and wide, have mostly come from wildlife — and there needed to be investment in research in the wildlife sector. Working for the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), he formed a program called PREDICT, where he guided trailblazing research into viruses hiding, and waiting to emerge, in animals around the world.

For 10 years, PREDICT received federal funding of $15 to $20 million annually, but the program was dropped by the Trump administration in 2019 — just months prior to the outbreak of COVID-19. Carroll left USAID to form a new program, the privately funded Global Virome Project (GVP), to confront the emergence of viral epidemics and pandemics.

The 10-year project will “build on PREDICT’s scientific insights and experiences,” says Carroll, who is dedicated to an international effort that will “identify and characterize 99% of all zoonotic viruses with epidemic/pandemic potential in order to better predict, prevent and respond to future viral threats.”

To achieve this core objective, GVP aims to build a comprehensive database in order to design science-based surveillance, preparedness and prevention plans enabling the development of countermeasures well in advance of future epidemic/pandemic events.

Back at ground zero for the current pandemic, Wuhan has made remarkable progress in stemming the virus outbreak and returning to a cautious state of normalcy.

But the government, which doesn’t take kindly to criticism, has taken a series of knee-jerk reactions in responding to universal outcries to shut down wildlife markets, stem the trade of live animals and drastically improve sanitation at traditional wet markets. The government initially closed all the Wuhan markets in January, and then reopened them in February, while imposing a ban on the sale and consumption of wild animals.

The ban has been seen as somewhat half-hearted, however, as China began offering tax breaks to the multibillion-dollar animal-products industry for exporting some of the creatures overseas. Value-added tax rebates were raised on nearly 1,500 Chinese products, including a 9% rebate on exports of animal products, like edible snakes, turtles, primate meat, beaver and civet musk and rhino horns. Vietnam is the largest importer of China’s wild animal exports, followed by South Korea, Japan, Hong Kong and Indonesia.

The challenge facing Beijing’s central government as Wuhan and the rest of the country returns to life as normal will be how to keep open such markets while enforcing rules against the live slaughter of animals or the sale of wildlife on site.

“Banning wet markets is not only going to be impossible, but will also be destructive for urban food security in China as they play such a pivotal role in ensuring urban residents’ access to affordable and fresh food,” warns Dr. Zhenzhong Si, a research associate studying food security at University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada

Meanwhile, U.S. officials continue to call for President Xi Jinping’s government to close the markets, saying they are breeding grounds for disease.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, America’s favorite virus guru and director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, stated recently that the coronavirus was a “direct result” of unsanitary markets and said it was “mind-boggling” that the markets remain open.

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Food supply chain comes under tremendous pressure due to COVID-19

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Tyson, one of the world’s leading meat processors, suspended operations at its largest pork processing plant in Waterloo, Iowa, on April 22. Earlier, Smithfield Foods, the largest pork producer in the world, announced the closures of plants in Wisconsin, South Dakota, and Missouri. Both companies decided to close facilities after COVID-19 outbreaks among their workers.

Speaking to the closure and the crisis, John Tyson, chairman of Tyson Foods, warned Americans on April 27 that the food supply chain is breaking. As the coronavirus outbreak forces food processing plants to shutter, he predicted that “millions of pounds of meat” will disappear from the national supply chain.

The strain on the system

Consumers have been feeling the effects of disruption on the supply chain, but industry experts say that more pronounced disruption is yet to come.

Panic buying and hoarding; medical equipment and cleaning supply shortages; and empty aisles in grocery stores all point to the consequences of the incredible strain on the global supply chain system.

Understanding the strain

Along with the top names, dozens of smaller pork, beef, and chicken plants are having trouble, too. Long-haul trucking is having a tough time meeting the faster purchasing pace, with additional time needed for sanitizing trucks and supplies and ensuring the drivers’ health. As shoppers continue to clear out grocery stores and supply chains are strained, the crisis will likely exacerbate the potential for shortages and high prices.

Food supply chains are a complex web of interactions involving farmers, processing plants, logistics, shipping, wholesalers, retailers, and consumers. A protracted pandemic crisis will put a severe strain on this system and retailers and wholesalers whose inventories might be small already could be wiped out. The system becomes even more complicated for urban and suburban centers in major industrial nations.

Supply and assistance: keeping America fed

Anti-hunger advocacy groups are trying to help meet demand but are inundated with applications. For now, citizens in need of food are going to food pantries and soup kitchens.

With retail and hospitality industries brought to a standstill and educational institutions closed, there have been food shortages and wastage on a large scale. Food banks and food pantries have limited means of storage. Food-strapped food banks are now competing with the general public in retail establishments, adding to their woes.

One challenge is to maintain the food supply at all levels. Then, there is the need to manage the various programs needed to keep Americans fed. While government officials continue to reassure the public that the U.S. has plenty of food, there is a disconnect between official reports of food supply and what the economically challenged are experiencing.

At the ground level, workers, volunteers, and social work organizations are calling for a reevaluation of food systems. They are witnessing empty grocery store shelves, long queues for bags of free groceries, and food pantries completely out of supplies.

Even for families with children usually receiving free- and reduced-price lunch, it is hard to get assistance. The state agencies responsible for these programs still must find the food to buy, and restrictions on what they’re allowed to purchase can be burdensome.

The next few months

The discussion around disruption in the food supply chain has grown in the past week due to the closures of meat processing facilities. Along with meat processors, large food warehouses are on the brink as well. As more workers fall sick, staffing shortages are shrinking the food supply.

The lack of foreign-raised meat imports and onerous immigration restrictions impacting the planting and harvesting of many of our nation’s crops are going to add to the strain. Plant worker shortages have led to the killing of perfectly edible and healthy animals instead of selling them, a tragic and mindless result.

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