Across the country, concerns about our food supply are growing as we take action to fight the coronavirus pandemic. Meat processing facilities have shuttered or slowed production as virus outbreaks among workers have spurred aggressive measures to control the disease.
To be clear, worker and food safety is paramount. These processing facilities, which already operate under strict safety guidelines, are working with both the state and federal governments to further increase safety in their plants.
However, plant shutdowns and slowdowns have severely limited the amount of meat being processed. This has wide-ranging effects up and down the supply chain. To see the immediate effects, look no further than your local grocery store. Many are now limiting how much meat people can buy, if there’s even any on the shelf to purchase. Suddenly, folks are starting to realize what those of us in North Missouri have known all along—your food doesn’t just magically appear on the grocery store shelves.
The farmers and ranchers who raise livestock for meat are facing a dire situation. Because they have nowhere to go with their animals, they are faced with euthanizing livestock that would normally end up in restaurants and grocery stores. The amount of lost revenue is quickly adding up and threatens to put longtime producers in North Missouri out of business.
While the President rightfully invoked the Defense Production Act to keep the plants open and running, unclear Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) guidelines could potentially keep them at a fraction of needed capacity, further threatening the food supply. This cannot be sustained.
Missouri Congresswoman Vicky Hartzler and I have been working with local leaders to identify the issues that are affecting the food supply and working to help improve the current situation. This week, we sent a letter asking the CDC and OSHA to clarify their unclear guidelines. The goal should be to both keep workers safe while also applying common-sense to safety regulations to enable these essential plants to operate safely at as high of a capacity as possible.
As our letter states, it is imperative that workers are safe and feel confident coming back to work or continuing to work. At the same time, processors shouldn’t be unnecessarily forced to reconfigure and re-engineer their plants when other common-sense measures could allow them to continue operating efficiently.
This pandemic has presented countless challenges and we’ll continue working to meet them head on. We must ensure we continue to have the world’s safest, most available food supply. With clear direction and a little common sense, I believe we can do just that.