Ag Policy Blog

USDA Getting Engaged on Livestock and Packer Crisis

Chris Clayton
By  Chris Clayton , DTN Ag Policy Editor
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Pork producers are faced with potentially having to euthanize hogs because of the struggles keeping packing plants open. USDA late Friday announced it was getting more engaged with the situation. (DTN file photo)

Citing that livestock producers are facing an "unprecedented emergency" with meat processing, USDA on late Friday announced it is leading a federal effort to help livestock producers, especially to ensure operations remain open or return to production quickly.

In a 254-word statement sent out about 9:30 Eastern on Friday evening, USDA stated it was getting more engaged in the packing plant crisis that has shredded as much as 25% of meat processing capacity over the past three weeks.

The United Food and Commercial Workers union, as well as House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson, D-Minn., had written Vice President Mike Pence and his task force last week as well to get the federal government more engaged in the packing plant closures.

In its announcement, USDA cited it is working with a long list of federal agencies in this response, including the vice president's coronavirus task force, the Centers for Disease Control, the Occupational Safety & Health Administration and the Department of Labor, as well as industry.

That should raise a lot of questions regarding exactly why these federal agencies were not that aggressively engaged in protecting the food-supply chain and ensuring packing plants had protective measures in place for essential workers.

USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service stated it is establishing "a national incident coordination center" to help livestock producers whose animals cannot move to market because of a processing plant closure. APHIS stated it would "identify potential alternative market if a producer is unable to move animals, and if necessary, advise and assist on depopulation and disposal methods."

USDA did not detail how livestock producers would contact the national incident coordination center or when it might become active.

APHIS said it would secure contractors and supplies from the National Veterinary Stockpile, as well as include staff from the Natural Resources and Conservation Service to provide technical assistance, and open up cost-share under the Environmental Quality Incentives Program.…

Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, in a statement Saturday, said "Iowa’s pork industry is in dire straits. With a system designed for just-in-time delivery, this important sector of our state’s economy has been turned on its head due to meat processing plant closures across Iowa, and the Midwest," Ernst said. "Our producers are now facing difficult and devastating decisions that can lead to them literally throwing out their livelihoods.After speaking with Secretary Perdue this week, I’m thankful to see him put plans in place to help our producers during this trying time. This is a good step that will provide guidance, support, and resources to Iowa pork producers."

Wisconsin media reported late Friday that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is now investigating JBS and Smithfield facilities, at least in Wisconsin, for possible health violations. OSHA is investigating other food processors in Wisconsin as well, Wisconsin Public Radio reported.…

OSHA, until this past week, seemed largely absent from the conversation about meatpacking plants and essential employees.…

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