The U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF) understands the concerns of our international customers as COVID-19 continues to spread not only across the United States, but around the world. USMEF is committed to continuing to serve the global supply chain and help our industry’s valued customers understand the impacts that COVID-19 may have on the U.S. supply chain; but more importantly the steps the industry is taking to ensure that the U.S. red meat supply remains reliable, consistent and safe.
The following contains useful information and links on the steps the U.S. government and industry are taking to support and protect the supply chain for red meat exports.
Food Production is Critical Infrastructure
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the White House Coronavirus Task Force released a document, The President’s Coronavirus Guidelines for America — 30 Days to Slow the Spread of Coronavirus (COVID-19), which states that companies in the food supply are part of a critical infrastructure industry.
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has also issued this guidance and accompanying list identifying critical infrastructure industries, including agriculture and food. In support of these efforts, the North American Meat Institute (NAMI) submitted a memo to DHS emphasizing the importance of including meat industry suppliers in that critical infrastructure designation.
The list of states executing shelter in residence orders continues to grow. Measures have been taken to ensure that employees can travel to and from work deemed “critical infrastructure.” This includes letters from employers to offer authorities if an employee is stopped while traveling to or from work, and similar documents for shipment of supplies related to critical infrastructure.
USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) issued this memorandum: U.S. Department of Agriculture Operations Allowed to Operate During Shelter in Residence for USDA employees. AMS provides services key to meat production, including beef grading and program and export verification. To help facilitate this, USDA-AMS has made necessary changes to the audit process for establishment export verification (EV) programs to ensure these programs have necessary oversite and continue to operate, summarized in this AMS bulletin.
A broad collection of food industry associations also sent a letter to federal, state and local officials asking food (for human and animal consumption), beverage, and consumer packaged goods manufacturers be exempted from the gathering and curfew bans.
Finally, the National Governors Association has a coronavirus website that provides information and resources on a state by state basis.
FSIS Supply Chain MeasuresUSDA Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) has been extremely proactive in addressing potential issues that can arise from either in-plant inspectors or plant employees testing positive for COVID-19, as well as assuring the public that the meat and poultry supply chain will continue to function despite the COVID-19 pandemic. Additionally, FSIS has provided resources to consumers to ensure that meat and poultry, as well as packaging materials do not pose a public health risk for COVID-19.
USDA has an informational site with frequently asked questions related to food production and COVID-19, which covers information from all USDA agencies and addresses consumer concerns on food production and COVID-19. On March 17, USDA also provided a letter from USDA Deputy Under Secretary for Food Safety and Under Secretary for Marketing and Regulatory Programs reassuring the industry that USDA will address the challenges to the supply chain due to COVID-19.
USDA-FSIS has conducted regular communication with industry on the agency’s COVID-19 preparedness that include:
- Ensuring inspectors are available to conduct inspection activities, including export certification, at meat and poultry establishments, and preparedness for absenteeism of inspectors so as not to disrupt production. This includes mobilizing FSIS District Office and field operations staff who are capable of replacing line inspectors that test positive for COVID-19.
- FSIS has stated that the agency will not require any establishment to temporarily halt production due to employee or inspector COVID-19 positives.
- FSIS inspectors and plant management regularly communicate about any workers or inspectors testing positive so that appropriate co-worker and other notifications are made. FSIS inspectors along with plant employees are subject to establishment COVID-19 screening measures (i.e., temperature taking, oral symptom surveys, etc.) when entering the plant.
Foodservice to Retail FlexibilityBecause of the dramatic shift in U.S. demand away from foodservice and to retail, FSIS has allowed regulatory flexibility for labeling and packaging to transition product to U.S. retail that was originally produced for U.S. foodservice. More details are provided in the FSIS Constituent Update.
Plant Production and LogisticsU.S. red meat establishments are actively planning for employees that test positive for COVID-19 and ensuring that these cases have a limited impact on production. The Food & Beverage Issue Alliance (FBIA) has developed industry recommended protocols when establishment employees test positive for COVID-19, and emergency measures to achieve physical distancing for employees, outlined on this FBIA web page.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and CDC have also posted guidance for manufacturers on necessary risk prevention and assessment measures:
Many have likely seen reports of multiple meat and poultry companies who have reported COVID-19 positive employees in establishments, and some establishments that are temporarily closing or reducing production capacity. However, it is important to note that U.S. beef and pork production continue to operate at record levels, and that companies are taking measures to ensure production continues even when company employees test positive.
Industry has developed a best practice document for establishments when an employee has tested positive for COVID-19, or when an employee or inspector has been exposed. This document is being regularly updated on the FBIA website. This includes guidance on quarantine measures for COVID-19 positive and exposed employees, cleaning and disinfecting procedures, disposition of food products, and when employees or inspectors should be allowed to return to work. The CDC also recently issued guidance to critical infrastructure companies on safety practices for employees that may have been exposed to COVID-19.
The meat and poultry industries also continue to work together with the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), Federal Motor Carriers Safety Administration (FMCSA), Federal Maritime Commission (FMC) and other transportation agencies to ensure the safe and efficient transportation of the U.S. food supply. Despite many state-level stay-at-home and shelter-in-place orders, truck drivers, port employees and many other workers in the logistics industry have been deemed as essential employees and critical infrastructure to keep food moving in the U.S. and internationally. This includes:
- DOT extending the hours of operation for truck drivers and allowing extension of expired commercial driver’s licenses (CDLs).
- empting truck drivers from stay-at-home orders that would prevent carriers from crossing state and/or international lines.
- Deeming port workers as “essential employees” and exempting them from stay-at-home orders to allow shipping ports to operate at full capacity.
- U.S. industry sent a letter to the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, Director of National Economic Council, and FMC to waive demurrage charges for delayed containers.
The U.S. red meat industry, from farm to ocean port, remains committed to keeping the supply chain running through these challenging times, as does the U.S. government. Now more than ever, the U.S. red meat industry is reliant on our international customers as we all work through these challenging times together. The U.S. is producing record volumes of beef and pork, and exports are on a record pace. This is a path we see continuing, despite current headwinds.
Other COVID-19 Resources
For further questions, please contact the USMEF Technical Services Department.