IDFA COVID-19 Update

Michael Dykes, D.V.M., President & CEO International Dairy Foods Association

IDFA continues to track developments on how coronavirus (COVID-19) is impacting the dairy industry within the food and agricultural sector. With improved testing capabilities across the country, the number of confirmed U.S. cases has risen dramatically this week. IDFA has been staying close to federal officials, legislators, business leaders, and other trade associations to learn the latest and to advocate on behalf of our dairy industry. For your awareness, here are some of the major developments we are tracking:
  • We heard you, and IDFA issued a new Q&A document yesterday to provide producers, processors, and manufacturers of food with answers to questions about the safe production of food and the health of employees given the current environment where COVID-19 is present. The document provides recommendations on what to do if an employee tests positive for COVID-19. Download the FAQs here.
  • After our advocacy, we were pleased to see the federal government today provide clear guidance on what it means for the food and agricultural industry (particularly dairy) to be 1 of 16 of the nation’s “critical infrastructure industries,” and what safeguards this provides us at the local level to help avoid major disruptions in operations, transportation, and supplies. The Department of Homeland Security issued this guidance today, including the full food/ag value chain as critical, and calling out “food manufacturer employees and their supplier employees—to include those employed in food processing (packers, meat processing, cheese plants, milk plants, produce, etc.”
  • Earlier yesterday, the Port of Houston temporarily closed two container terminals after reports that an employee who works at both tested positive for COVID-19. The rest of the port is unaffected. The port said that decisions on vessel schedules, demurrage and other matters will be determined as soon as possible.
  • On that note, rather than wait, IDFA has provided a form to self-certify food transportation and manufacturing employees as part of the nation’s critical infrastructure. IDFA recommends companies print the form on official company letterhead (your own or that of your transportation provider), print a copy, sign the document where indicated, and ask drivers and employees to keep these on-hand to provide to authorities should they stop vehicles or employees from carrying out their duties.Download the form here.
  • Separately, we hear from FDA that Chicago is likely to issue a “shelter in place” order today or tomorrow for city residents. We have contacted the Secretary of Agriculture in Illinois as well as federal officials to ensure there is little to no disruption to our industry due its classification as “critical infrastructure industry” and that there is consistency among state and local handling of exemptions for critical segments to remain open and working.
  • Closures to schools are impacting federal policy, as USDA is scrambling to provide adequate funding and guidance to school systems to continue serving meals to children and teens at congregant sites. Moreover, IDFA is requesting USDA FNS to waive and allow 2% milk in WIC.
  • Congress passed the second coronavirus funding package yesterday focused on health care and unemployment benefits, among others, and now Congress is gearing up for a third, larger economic stimulus that is geared toward industries. Read our analysis here.

 

 

  • We’ve spoken to counterparts in the EU. This week, they started seeing “massive loss of demand” due to hotel, retail, food service closures, and reported “today’s increased milk supply is not absorbed by increased household consumption.” The industry is asking the government to subsidize storage of powder, butter and cheese. We’ve also spoken to economists, who tell us the US is more mixed. While there is a bubble fed by retail, our processors can pivot more quickly toward retail-ready foods. Unfortunately, export markets—which generally take 20% of our goods—are flat. Smaller processors, coops, and farms will feel any decline faster than others. Hence, the need for a strong stimulus. Phil Plourd of Blimling & Associates shares his views on volatility in the supply chain, here.
  • In an unprecedented move aiming to curtail spread of COVID-19, FDA is suspending all routine inspections of domestic food facilities and will instead focus its inspection resources on conducting inspections that are “for-cause” and “mission-critical,” e.g., inspections in connection with a foodborne illness outbreak, a Class I recall or COVID-19. While a smart move to reduce transmission, we’re tracking how reduced inspection capacity could impact the status of Grade “A” plants and overall optics for consumers.
Thank you for your membership and engagement with IDFA. We are so grateful to be part of this community, especially in times like these when the work of our dairy industry is so vital to our nation’s health and security.
Please check www.idfa.org/coronavirus for regular updates.

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