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Secretary Sonny Perdue at podium USDA photo by Tom Witham

Perdue outlines processing plant expectations

Updated: Missouri judge reaffirms USDA authority over meat packing plants.

Updated

A federal judge in Missouri dismissed a lawsuit brought by Smithfield meat packing plant workers who say the company failed to protect them from COVID-19. 

Judge David Gregory Kays of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri said he took seriously the workers’ concern “for their health and the health of their community in these unprecedented times," Bloomberg Law reported, but said the court can’t ignore the authority of OSHA and USDA over coronavirus safety guidance at meat-processing plants or “the significant steps Smithfield has taken to reduce the risk of a COVID-19 outbreak at the Plant.”

Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue applauded the decision.

“This ruling affirms that OSHA is the primary entity that has authority over worker’s safety,” Perdue said. “USDA has been working hand-in-hand with OSHA and the CDC to ensure meat processing facilities are abiding by federal guidelines. This ruling is directly in line with what the federal government has been calling for companies and communities to do in light of the president’s executive order. If we continue to work together, we can maintain the critical supply of meat and poultry for Americans while also protecting worker health and safety.”

On May 5, Perdue mailed letters to governors and leadership of major meat processing companies to establish USDA's expectations for the implementation of President Trump’s Executive Order to keep the processing plants running.

The executive order directs plants to follow the Centers for Disease Control and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration guidance specific to the meat processing industry to keep these critical facilities open while maintaining worker safety.

The letter to governors:

May 5, 2020

The Executive Order signed by President Donald J. Trump on Tuesday, April 28, 2020, delegated to the Secretary of Agriculture the powers of the President, under the Defense Production Act, to take all appropriate action to ensure America’s meat and poultry processors continue operations consistent with the guidance jointly issued by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the U.S. Department of Labor’s (DOL) Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regarding public health and worker safety. Congress enacted the Defense Production Act of 1950 to ensure the availability of critical supplies and materials, including food for national defense, which was later amended to include emergency and disaster response.

I understand that State and local leaders are working diligently to protect and maintain the well- being of their citizens, including those who work on the front lines in critical industries, such as meat and poultry processing. 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.

Effective immediately, I have directed meat and poultry processors to utilize the guidance issued on Sunday, April 26, 2020, by CDC and OSHA 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.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has also directed meat and poultry processing plants currently closed and without a clear timetable for near-term reopening to submit to USDA written documentation of their protocol, developed based on the CDC/OSHA guidance, and resume operations as soon as they are able after implementing the CDC/OSHA guidance for the protection of workers. USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service’s (FSIS) mission is to inspect meat and poultry products to ensure that they are wholesome and safe. For this reason, USDA is partnering with OSHA and CDC as they are our Nation’s federally recognized public health and worker safety authorities.

USDA, alongside our Federal partners at CDC and OSHA, will continue to work with State and local officials to ensure that facilities are implementing best practices designed to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, while maintaining operations. Further action under the Executive Order and the Defense Production Act is under consideration and will be taken if necessary.

Signed,

Secretary Perdue

The letter to stakeholders:

May 5, 2020

I am heartened to see that companies and local communities are cooperating in restoration of plant activities in accordance with the guidance for their operations jointly issued on Sunday, April 26, by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Department of Labor’s (DOL) Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) regarding worker health and safety. I write now to exhort you to follow those examples and with respect to any current or proposed actions that may lead to a reduction in the Nation’s meat and poultry food supply. Executive Order 13917 signed by President Trump on Tuesday, April 28, 2020, delegated to the Secretary of Agriculture the powers of the President under the Defense Production Act to take all appropriate action to ensure America’s meat and poultry processors continue operations.

Maintaining the health and safety of plant employees in addition to ensuring continued operations and a plentiful food supply during this unprecedented time is paramount. Our Nation’s meat and poultry processing facilities and workers play an integral role in the continuity of our food supply chain. Effective immediately, meat and poultry processing plants should utilize the guidance issued on Sunday, April 26, 2020, by the CDC and OSHA specific to the meat and poultry processing industry to implement practices and protocols for safeguarding the health of the workers and the community while staying operational or resuming operations.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) mission is to inspect meat and poultry products to ensure that they are wholesome and safe. For this reason, USDA is partnering with OSHA and CDC as they have the authority and expertise over public health and worker safety issues for plant employees.

Meat and poultry processing plants contemplating reductions of operations or recently closed since Friday May 1, and without a clear timetable for near term resumption of operations, should submit written documentation of their operations and health and safety protocol developed based on the CDC/OSHA guidance to USDA at foodsupplychain@usda.gov. Plants should resume operations as soon as they are able after implementing the CDC/OSHA guidance for the protection of workers. USDA will continue to work with plants, the CDC, OSHA, and state, tribal, and local officials to ensure facilities are implementing practices consistent with the guidance to keep employees safe and continue operations. Again, I exhort you to do this; further action under the Executive Order and the Defense Production Act is under consideration and will be taken if necessary.

We thank you for your dedication to ensuring that your employees will be able to continue working at your facilities to provide Americans with an abundant, healthy, and safe food supply.

Signed,

Secretary Perdue

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