U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Issues Letters Addressing Meat and Poultry Packing Expectations

Faegre Drinker Biddle & Reath LLP
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Faegre Drinker Biddle & Reath LLP

On April 28, 2020, President Trump signed an executive order (the “Order”) invoking the Defense Production Act of 1950, 50 U.S.C. 4501 et seq. (DPA) to address food supply chain disruptions caused by reduced production or closure of beef, pork and poultry processing facilities due to COVID-19 employee illnesses. The Order delegated authority to the Secretary of the U. S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), Sonny Perdue, to ensure that meat and poultry processors continue operations consistent with the guidance jointly issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to keep these critical facilities open while maintaining worker safety.

On May 5, 2020, Secretary Perdue sent two letters — one to governors nationwide and the other to stakeholders in the meat and poultry processing industry — detailing the USDA’s expectations for implementation of the Order. In his letter to stakeholders, Secretary Perdue reiterated that meat and poultry processing plants should consult the recent interim guidance issued by the CDC and OSHA for Meat and Poultry Processing Workers and Employers. Secretary Perdue strongly urged meat and poultry processing plants to utilize this guidance and develop practices and protocols to remain operational or resume operations while safeguarding the health of workers and the community. He also provided additional guidance for meat and poultry processing plants that have recently closed or are contemplating reductions of operations. Those plants are urged to submit written documentation of the health and safety protocol that they developed based on the CDC/OSHA guidance to foodsupplychain@usda.gov. Plants should then resume operations as soon as possible after implementing the CDC/OSHA guidance. 

Secretary Perdue’s letter to governors explained the direction and guidance that he had given to the meat and poultry processors in his letter to stakeholders and asked for the cooperation of state and local officials to ensure the CDC/OSHA guidance is being implemented to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 while maintaining operations at meat and poultry processing plants. He acknowledged that “[s]tate and local leaders are working diligently to protect and maintain the wellbeing of their citizens, including those who work on the front lines in critical industries, such as meat and poultry processing,” but noted that “it is essential that we work together to ensure the health and safety of those who help keep food on the table during this unprecedented time.” For this reason, Secretary Perdue has “directed meat and poultry processors to utilize the [CDC and OSHA guidance] specific to the meat and poultry processing industry to implement practices and protocols for staying operational or resuming operations while safeguarding the health of the workers and the community.”

Secretary Perdue closed both letters by noting that “further action under the Executive Order and the Defense Production Act is under consideration and will be taken if necessary.” 

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