For the Week Ending March 20, 2020

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As the United States and world grappled this week with the continued spread of COVID-19, the National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) remained focused on advocacy efforts, ensuring the continuity of the U.S pork supply chain as an essential element of the nation’s food delivery infrastructure. NPPC is working across federal, state and local governments to reinforce normal operations of the pork supply chain, while urging for preemptive actions to prevent disruptions. A summary of this week’s outreach and results follows: 

•   Critical Infrastructure Designation: On Wednesday, NPPC submitted a letter to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) urging the agency to declare those involved in U.S. agriculture and the pork industry as essential critical infrastructure workers. “Considering the current COVID-19 outbreak in the United States and the growing uncertainty about the overall health of our nation, it is imperative that there is minimal disruption in the production, and movement of vital resources such as the agricultural commodities, including pork, that feeds the nation,” NPPC wrote. DHS issued guidance on Thursday including U.S. food and agriculture among 16 critical industries. The agency will now focus on enforcement of this guidance with state and local governments and the Department of Justice. On Friday, NPPC responded to a request for information from DHS on U.S. pork industry support needed to maintain business continuity. NPPC’s response covered a wide range of issues, including access to labor, supplies of critical production inputs, port operations to support the flow of pork exports and some imported inputs, permitting and other regulatory relief, among other topics. NPPC will be submitting weekly comments to DHS.
•    Labor: Access to labor is a high priority for NPPC as COVID-19 threatens to exacerbate U.S. pork’s existing labor shortage.  NPPC is in discussion with Congress and USDA – and submitted a letter to Agriculture Secretary Perdue on Tuesday – to find near-term labor solutions. NPPC is stressing the importance of the TN visa program, which taps labor from Mexico, and extending the time H-2A workers can stay in the United States. A copy of the letter is available here
•    Transportation Waivers: Earlier this month, the Department of Transportation’s (DOT) Federal Motor Safety Administration issued nationwide waivers for Hours of Service Rules, which governs the amount of time commercial truckers can drive their loads and when they are required to rest between drives. The initial waiver, issued March 13, covered the transportation of food, including pork, from packing plants to distribution points and retail outlets, but did not include the shipment of livestock. In response, NPPC advocated aggressively to ensure the waiver was expanded to include livestock. On Wednesday, the DOT expanded the scope of the nationwide waiver to cover livestock haulers. The expanded waiver will remain in force until April 12 and may be extended if conditions warrant. 
•    Funding and Accessible Credit: Hog-price volatility due to the COVID-19 pandemic has already exacted financial harm on U.S. pork producers. NPPC is in dialogue with members of Congress and the administration to help them understand the impact on producers and the economic importance of the sector. On Wednesday, NPPC engaged the U.S. Small Business Administration to reinforce the importance of favorable lines of credit for pork producers, citing support for payroll, animal welfare and production input costs.