Homeland Security deems agriculture as ‘critical infrastructure’ amid COVID-19 pandemic

The Trump administration has labeled agriculture as a critical industry in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak, allowing businesses to continue operating as usual amid current and potential restrictions created to stem the spread of the virus.

The declaration came by way of the Department of Homeland Security, which extended the designation to the entire food and agriculture production system. Farm groups in recent days had been concerned about the potential for movement restrictions put in place to limit exposure of the virus, including the potential for halted shipment of inputs needed for the upcoming planting season.

National Council of Farmer Cooperatives President and CEO Chuck Conner said the move “provides much needed reassurance.”

“The Trump Administration should especially be commended to recognize the importance of the entire supply chain — from input provides to farmers and ranchers to food processors to retailers,” he said in a statement. “Leaving one link in this chain out of this designation would have made the task facing American agriculture all that much harder.”

Yesterday, more than 40 farm groups sent a letter to President Donald Trump asking that the administration “be mindful of the food, feed, and agricultural supply chain and workforce impacts on the ability of U.S. agriculture to meet the needs of consumers.” The Department of Transportation’s Federal motor Carrier Safety Administration has already lifted hours of service restrictions for livestock transport.

National Pork Producers Council President Howard “A.V.” Roth welcomed the guidance; NPPC was among many groups pushing for the official designation this week.

“We recognize that states and local governments are working hard to ensure operational continuity,” he said. “As part of that effort, we urge state and local governments to swiftly follow and implement this federal directive. We need to ensure there is a continuous and uninterrupted supply of pork to America’s kitchen tables.”

The Fertilizer Institute also welcomed the move after sounding the alarm yesterday about the important timing of the designation. In a letter to congressional leaders and the Trump administration, TFI President and CEO Corey Rosenbusch noted the upcoming planting season and said the “timely delivery of plant nutrients to American farmers is critical to their ability to produce food, fuel, and fiber.”

The ag industry is facing a long list of unforeseen complications as the virus hits thousands of people across the country. Farm groups are concerned about labor issues should critical workers become infected and are also worried about the approval process for H-2A workers seeking to come to the U.S. to work during the upcoming planting season.

So far, agribusiness interests say they’re operating as usual. The Food and Drug Administration has suspended some of its inspection activities, but USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service has not, and USDA leaders have said they will “continue to ensure that grading and inspection personnel are available.” Meat packing plants cannot operate without a USDA inspector.

DHS notes the designation is advisory in nature and “is not, nor should it be considered to be, a federal directive or standard in and of itself.”

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