USDA and FDA Issue Joint Statement on Global Food Export Restrictions and COVID-19 Transmission

Faegre Drinker Biddle & Reath LLP

On June 24, 2020, following recent activity from China regarding concerns over the safety of imported food, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a joint statement on food export restrictions pertaining to COVID-19. The brief press release states that “efforts by some countries to restrict global food exports related to COVID-19 transmission are not consistent with the known science of transmission.” The statement goes on to say that “[t]here is no evidence that people can contract COVID-19 from food or from food packaging,” reiterating the focus of both agencies on food safety, “including product for export.”

The joint statement also notes that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) have issued specific guidance for manufacturing facilities to control the spread of COVID-19 between workers. In addition, all U.S. food facilities must follow USDA- and FDA-led food safety requirements that are “separate and distinct” from CDC and OSHA guidance to ensure food safety.

The statement’s language regarding COVID-19 transmission through food is similar to that of both the CDC and the World Health Organization (WHO). Both the CDC and WHO have noted that the risk of infection by COVID-19 from food products and food packaging is very low. In fact, there have been no cases that are thought to have resulted from touching food, food packaging or shopping bags. Importantly, the CDC has also stated that there has been no evidence of the spread of COVID-19 from food production or processing facility workers who have contracted the virus to consumers through food or food packaging.

The timing and the content of the joint statement closely follows a recent request by China that its trading partners sign assurances that food exports to the country meet safety standards. Recent outbreaks at meatpacking plants around the world, including the U.S., served as motivation for the appeal. However, according to a June 24, 2020 Bloomberg report, the requests are informal and are meant to ease consumer concerns. Nevertheless, several meat companies in Brazil and Europe have signed the certificate.

In response, the Joint Statement from USDA and FDA echoes previous points by the agencies, as well as the CDC and WHO, to reassure consumers that global food export restrictions rising from concerns related to the transmission of COVID-19 through food and food packaging are unfounded. We will continue to monitor developments in this regard and it is likely that the continued trade negotiations between the U.S. and China will impact the imposition or lifting of future tariff and non-tariff trade barriers.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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