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    Unfounded Claims About Frequency and Causes of Food Plant Fires

    Data on the number fires at food-processing plants in 2022 "does not signal anything out of the ordinary," according to the National Fire Protection Association. Despite no evidence of foul play, unfounded rumors from conservative pundits suggest a rash of "mysterious fires" may be part of a plan to disrupt the food supply.

    DEBUNKING FALSE STORIES › FACTCHECK POSTS

    Unfounded Claims About Frequency and Causes of Food Plant Fires

    By Saranac Hale Spencer

    Posted on May 4, 2022

    Quick Take

    Data on the number fires at food-processing plants in 2022 “does not signal anything out of the ordinary,” according to the National Fire Protection Association. Despite no evidence of foul play, unfounded rumors from conservative pundits suggest a rash of “mysterious fires” may be part of a plan to disrupt the food supply.

    Full Story

    There’s been no significant increase in fires at food production facilities so far in 2022, according to the National Fire Protection Association.

    But that fact hasn’t stopped rumors from swirling online claiming that there’s been a suspicious increase and suggesting that there may be a plan to disrupt the food supply.

    Data on fire incidents doesn’t support the claim.

    “There have been approximately 20 fires in U.S. food processing facilities in the first 4 months of 2022, which is not extreme at all and does not signal anything out of the ordinary,” NFPA spokeswoman Susan McKelvey told us. “The recent inquiries around these fires appears to be a case of people suddenly paying attention to them and being surprised about how often they do occur. But NFPA does not see anything out of the ordinary in these numbers.”

    The NFPA gets its data from the National Fire Incident Reporting System and its own data sets, neither of which provide numbers specific to food processing plants. But the data does provide annual averages on fires that could be related to those types of facilities, McKelvey said.

    For example, she said, the annual averages of fires that have occurred in the U.S. between 2015 and 2019 are as follows:

    All manufacturing and processing facilities: 5,308

    Agriculture: 961

    Grain or livestock storage: 1,155

    Refrigerated storage: 35

    In 2020, there were 490,500 structure fires in the U.S. The 5,308 fires occurring in all manufacturing and processing plants, as noted above, represents 1% of all U.S. structure fires. Fires that represent less than 2% of the overall fire problem are considered statistically insignificant, McKelvey said. “As a result, the number of fires for this occupancy classification fall within that category,” she said.

    Overall, McKelvey said, “fires happen more often than people think.”

    There may be more food processing plants than people think, too. The U.S. had a total of 36,486 plants as of 2017, the most recent year for which there was data from the Census Bureau, according to a post from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

    But partisan websites and social media accounts have pointed to some examples of recent fires and paired them with other real-world events that are related to agriculture. Although the events have nothing to do with the fires, the posts give the misleading suggestion that there’s something nefarious afoot.

    For example, a website called Headline USA posted a story that said, “FBI Warns of Attacks on Food Plants After Rash of Mysterious Fires.” It referenced an April 20 notice from the FBI that warned agricultural cooperatives about potential ransomware attacks, which are a type of cyber threat in which a company’s computer files can be frozen and, as the name suggests, held for ransom.

    The FBI highlighted some instances, such as a ransomware attack in the fall of 2021 that affected six grain cooperatives and led some to halt their production while others lost access to administrative functions.

    Another version of this conspiratorial claim relies on a frequent villain in such theories — billionaire Bill Gates. One example of this claim came from Arizona state Sen. Wendy Rogers — a Republican who was censured after she called for her political rivals to be hanged at an event organized by a white nationalist.

    Rogers posted a tweet that said, “Bill Gates bought LOTS of farmland. Ukraine happened. Now food processing plants are catching fire. What is going on? Who knew what and when? Kinda shady!” That tweet has migrated to Facebook as a screenshot meme.

    It’s true that Gates has bought farmland. In 2021, The Land Report found that he was the largest private owner of farmland in the U.S., with 242,000 acres. There are 895.3 million acres of farmland across the country, according to the U.S.D.A.’s 2021 summary of farms. But there’s nothing to suggest anything “shady” is going on simply because Gates owns a fraction of U.S. farmland and there are sometimes fires at agricultural or food-processing facilities.

    One of the most widely shared versions of the claim about the fires came from Tucker Carlson, who highlighted the rumors on the April 21 episode of his Fox News show, which has an average of 3.62 million nightly viewers according to the most recent Neilson ratings

    “Food processing plants all over the country seem to be catching fire,” Carlson said at the start of the segment. He featured conservative talk-radio host Jason Rantz as an expert, who said that there had been “well over a dozen” examples of this within “the last few weeks.” But the show included a total of nine examples since January 2021.

    “It’s obviously suspicious and it could lead to serious food shortages,” Rantz said, although he didn’t explain what, exactly, he suspects is going on.

    Rantz did not respond to an email seeking clarification.

    Source : www.factcheck.org

    International Day of Plant Health, 12 May

    Healthy plants can help to end hunger, reduce poverty, protect the environment, and boost economic development.

    International Day of Plant Health, 12 May

    Healthy plants can help to end hunger, reduce poverty, protect the environment, and boost economic development.

    Both our health and the health of our planet depend on plants. Plants make up 80% of the food we eat and 98% of the oxygen we breathe and yet they are under threat.  Up to 40% of food crops are lost due to plant pests and diseases every year. This is affecting both food security and agriculture, the main source of income for vulnerable rural communities.

    Climate change and human activities are altering ecosystems and damaging biodiversity while creating new niches for pests to thrive. International travel and trade, which has tripled in volume in the last decade, is also spreading pests and diseases. We need to protect plants both for people and the planet, and all of us have a role to play.

    VIRTUAL EVENT

    12 May, 13:30 - 15:30 CET

    Register here Programme

    International Day of Plant Health 2022

    Get Involved!

    Whether you’re a government, city, private business, NGO, journalist, a civil society organization or individual, we can provide you with a range of multimedia content in several languages to share, and to support your International Plant Health Day activity.

    Actions

    Increase awareness of how plant health is fundamental to achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals, particularly SDG 2, Zero Hunger.

    Minimize the risk of spreading pests and diseases through trade and travel by ensuring compliance with international plant health standards.

    Keep plants healthy while protecting the environment through sustainable pests and pesticides management.

    Invest in plant-health innovations, research, capacity development, and outreach.

    Strengthen monitoring and early warning systems to protect plants and plant health.

    Increase awareness of how plant health is fundamental to achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals, particularly SDG 2, Zero Hunger.

    Minimize the risk of spreading pests and diseases through trade and travel by ensuring compliance with international plant health standards.

    Keep plants healthy while protecting the environment through sustainable pests and pesticides management.

    Invest in plant-health innovations, research, capacity development, and outreach.

    Strengthen monitoring and early warning systems to protect plants and plant health.

    Increase awareness of how plant health is fundamental to achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals, particularly SDG 2, Zero Hunger.

    Minimize the risk of spreading pests and diseases through trade and travel by ensuring compliance with international plant health standards.

    Keep plants healthy while protecting the environment through sustainable pests and pesticides management.

    Source : www.fao.org

    PolitiFact

    Recent fires at food processing plants across the United States have sparked several conspiracy theories that someone is

    No, food-plant fires aren’t attempt to create food shortages

    If Your Time is short

    There’s no evidence that a string of fires at food processing plants is intentional.

    The U.S. Department of Agriculture said there is currently no food shortage or disruption of the food supply in the country.

    See the sources for this fact-check

    Recent fires at food processing plants across the United States have sparked several conspiracy theories that someone is setting them intentionally in order to hasten a food shortage.

    "None of the other scams worked, so now they'll attempt to starve us," read an April 21 Facebook post. It shared a screenshot of a tweet that notes an "odd coincidence" that "18 U.S. food processing facilities burned down in the last six months."

    The post was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Facebook.)

    Knowing the facts has never been more important. Please consider donating to PolitiFact today.

    (Screengrab from Facebook)

    It’s not clear what anyone would have to gain by starving Americans — though at least one post suggests that Bill Gates would — but the conspiracy theory is spreading like, um, wildfire on social media and conservative websites.

    Fox News host Tucker Carlson added fuel by noting two other recent fires and asking in an April 22 segment, "What is going on here, exactly?"

    Carlson said in the past week that small planes crashed at a General Mills plant in Georgia (it crashed near the plant, which was not damaged) and the Gem State Processing Plant in Idaho. In that crash, a pilot delivering packages for UPS died in a crash that her father told a local newspaper was due to unsafe conditions caused by steam from a nearby chimney at the plant. The plant itself did not appear to suffer much damage, photos of the scene show.

    We looked at each of the 18 fires mentioned in the Facebook post and found no evidence that any of them were intentionally set.

    Twelve were either ruled accidental, or no foul play was suspected. One was at a vacant building that once housed a meat plant. In five others, the fires are either still under investigation or investigators have not publicly announced any cause found — intentional or otherwise.

    Some of the plants were completely destroyed or heavily damaged, while others suffered minor damage with little impact on food production. Though the post said the 18 fires happened in the past six months, only 12 of those happened in that time frame.

    Fires at large food processing plants can have a big effect on the nation’s food supply. Four large companies account for about 70% U.S. beef production, according to data from the North American Meat Institute. A 2019 blaze at a Tyson’s beef processing plant in Holcomb, Kansas, halted production there for four months, causing numerous supply chain and pricing issues.

    The American Association of Meat Processors said in a statement to PolitiFact that there doesn’t appear to be any evidence of a deliberate attack on the food industry in the cases cited in the Facebook post.

    Tom Super, senior vice president of communications at the National Chicken Council, a trade group that represents chicken producers, also doesn’t see any cause for concern.

    "I can only speak for chicken, but like any manufacturing plant/industry, there are generally a few fires that occur each year across the country. Most of them are contained rather quickly, and certainly not enough to affect the chicken supply," Super said. "There are about 200 federally inspected chicken slaughtering plants in the U.S. and thousands more that further process chicken. I would not categorize this as an ‘alarming trend.’"

    The U.S. Department of Agriculture said on its website that there are currently no food shortages or widespread disruptions of the food supply in the country, although availability of some products may be temporarily low at times.

    And PolitiFact recently spoke with food experts who said that even if the war in Ukraine affects supplies elsewhere, the U.S. is largely self-sufficient.

    Here’s what we know about the fires

    • A fire destroyed the headquarters of Azure Standard, a distributor of organic food in Dufur, Oregon. The cause of the fire is still under investigation, the company said in a press release on April 19. It said a few product lines may be affected, but the impact on operations should be "limited and temporary."

    • A fire destroyed a Taylor Farms Processing Facility in Salinas, California, on April 13. The company produces and distributes wholesale salad products and will now shift production to its Arizona facility. The company’s CEO told KSBW Action News that it plans to rebuild the facility and that the fire was likely the result of a welding accident.

    • An April 12 fire destroyed the East Conway Beef & Pork butcher shop and slaughterhouse in Conway, New Hampshire. The cause of the blaze is still under investigation as of April 22, according to the New Hampshire State Fire Marshal’s office.

    • A fire that destroyed the Penobscot McCrum potato processing plant in Belfast, Maine, on March 24 was accidental, the Associated Press reported. Officials believe it started in a large deep-frying machine, according to the Portland Press-Herald.

    Source : www.politifact.com

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