American livestock and poultry producers are facing an unprecedented emergency due to COVID-19, particularly with the closing of meat processing plants in several states. The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Animal & Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) announced plans to establish a National Incident Coordination Center to provide direct support to producers who cannot move their animals to market because of processing plant closures due to COVID-19 outbreaks.
USDA is leading the federal response by working in coordination with the Vice President’s Task Force, the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, the Occupational Safety & Health Administration, the U.S. Department of Labor, industry, state and local governments and others across the federal government to mitigate the impacts of COVID-19 on producers. “We will continue to seek solutions to ensure the continuity of operations and return to production as quickly [and safely as possible] and as health considerations allow at these critical facilities,” APHIS said in a notice to its stakeholders.
Going forward, the APHIS Coordination Center, state veterinarians and other state officials will be assisting in identifying potential alternative markets if a producer is unable to move animals and, if necessary, to advise and assist on depopulation and disposal methods.
According to USDA, APHIS will mobilize and deploy assets of the National Veterinary Stockpile as needed and secure the services of contractors who can supply additional equipment, personnel and services, much as it did during the large-scale highly pathogenic avian influenza emergency in 2015. In addition, USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service will provide state-level technical assistance to producers and cost-share assistance under the Environmental Quality Incentives Program in line with program guidelines for disposal.
Sen. Joni Ernst (R., Iowa) said, “Iowa’s pork industry is in dire straits. With a system designed for just-in-time delivery, this important sector of our state’s economy has been turned on its head due to meat processing plant closures across Iowa and the Midwest. Our producers are now facing difficult and devastating decisions that can lead to them literally throwing out their livelihoods. After speaking with [Agriculture Secretary Sonny] Perdue, I’m thankful to see him put plans in place to help our producers during this trying time. This is a good step that will provide guidance, support and resources to Iowa pork producers.”