NMPF Staff Leading Efforts to Ensure Agricultural Supply Chain Functions
March 31, 2020
Disruptions across the entire food supply chain have been hard to avoid as COVID-19 worries have spread the United States. NMPF has responded with tools for dairy producers and processors – and a position of leadership across the entire food sector through its involvement in a private-sector collaboration with federal authorities.
Senior Vice President of Regulatory Affairs and Staff Counsel, Clay Detlefsen, is the private-sector chair of the Food and Agricultural Sector Coordinating Council, which was developed after Sept. 11 terror attacks to maintain secure, functioning, resilient critical infrastructure in the United States. In that role Detlefsen has been working across agriculture to address supply-chain issues throughout the country, including initial runs on grocery items including milk in stores. Detlefsen urged consumers to stay measured in their buying.
“There is plenty of food in this country. There is no food shortage,” said Detlefsen in an NMPF podcast on March 19. “We have a bit of a distribution problem caused largely by consumers, in essence, over-consuming.”
In his role with the council Detlefsen has been invaluable to supply-chain coordination with the government, including the Department of Homeland Security’s recognition on March 19 of farm workers, food manufacturers, firms supporting food, feed and beverage distribution, animal agriculture workers, and others, as critical infrastructure employees.
The reaffirmation of agriculture’s crucial economic role allows it to operate as normal while other sectors may be forced to suspend work. Complementing the efforts Detlefsen led, NMPF has also developed an Essential Food and Agricultural Employee Work Permit Template to be used by food and agriculture employees to be granted permission to travel to and from work.
After concerns arose about potential plant closings should workers test positive for COVID-19, food industry professionals developed a document describing what should be done when an employee or customer tests positive for COVID-19. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are in the process of reviewing the document before it is posted on their websites. The recommendations are focused on how to keep employees safe without having to shut down an entire plant given FDA has repeatedly stated that food safety is not a concern when it comes to COVID-19 transmission.
MPF has also been working with other agriculture organizations and federal agencies on shaping guidance documents and influencing regulatory actions. One example: On March 26, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released a statement announcing it will be using enforcement discretion in several areas for noncompliance issues during the pandemic. This decision comes after NMPF and other livestock groups including the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association and National Pork Producers Council sent a letter requesting they issue a “no action assurance” given the “unusual circumstances” we are facing.
Finally, NMPF has been in a leadership role with government and industry stakeholders looking for solutions to shortages of cleaners and disinfectants, hand sanitizers and personal protective equipment and the regulatory team is in constant contact with the federal agencies to ensure dairy farmer needs are being met.