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American meat producers must leverage new technology to protect consumers, workers

The Hill logo The Hill 7/13/2020 Rep. Richard Hudson (R-N.C.), Opinion Contributor
coronavirus COVID-19 food shortages pork farmers dairy usda secretary sonny perdue buy back economy surplus demand lack © iStock coronavirus COVID-19 food shortages pork farmers dairy usda secretary sonny perdue buy back economy surplus demand lack

From health concerns to closed businesses and schools, the coronavirus pandemic has impacted every aspect of our society and daily life. Unfortunately, and perhaps most dangerously, our nation's food supply has not been immune.

Due to labor shortages, travel restrictions and stay-at-home orders, food supply chains have been severely disrupted as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. At the height of the crisis, many meat processing facilities suspended or limited operations and laid off workers. These challenges have highlighted how critical these facilities are to not only providing food on the table for countless American families but to our broader national security.

Not since World War II have we seen grocery stores with empty shelves and restrictions on the amount of food a person can purchase. In addition to hardships for consumers, disrupted food supply chains have farmers across the country facing drastic impacts in terms of missed revenue at a time many farmers and producers were already struggling under tight margins. The current situation is nothing short of dire, not just for our long-term food supply, but for millions of jobs.

The pork industry alone supports over half a million jobs throughout the U.S., adding nearly $40 billion to our national GDP. Pork production is critical throughout our country, and especially in my state of North Carolina, where it supports nearly 50,000 jobs and where more than 80 percent of hog farms are family-owned and operated. This industry's vital role in our economy, and our food supply, is exactly what made it critical for President Trump to exercise his executive authority under the Defense Production Act to keep our meat processing plants open. But much more must be done to support not just the countless pork producers and industry workers, but also the safety of workers and consumers.

In March, Congress passed the CARES Act which included more than $23 billion for agricultural producers. I, along with many of my House colleagues, have sent numerous letters to Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue and House leadership advocating for additional resources for our pork producers as they weather this storm. While we are committed to supporting this industry and protecting our food supply chains, more must be done to ensure we advance initiatives that strike the right balance between fiscally responsible policy and providing certainty to farmers and agribusinesses during these trying times.

If the American meat production industry is to truly bounce back stronger than ever, state and federal officials must work alongside industry leaders to implement proven solutions to properly restore and strengthen our supply chains while also producing safe food.

Many meat processors are already leading the way and investing in new technology to address future supply chain disruptions related to infectious diseases. Historically, too much of the burden to ensure food safety has fallen on food preparers and cooks, even though some pathogens simply cannot be eliminated in the kitchen. New technologies and strategies are now available to help ensure the safety of the food we eat and to help prevent disease outbreaks without compromising animal welfare or workers' safety by controlling the pathogens at feed mills, farms and processing plants. These kinds of innovative solutions will allow our processing facilities to operate more efficiently, strengthen our supply chains, and most importantly, protect public health.

Our country's economic well-being is directly tied to the health of our farms and food supply chains. While hurdles remain, the industry is stepping up to answer the call to ensure consumer safety, public health and our nation's food security. As co-chair of the bipartisan House Agriculture and Rural America Task Force, I will continue to bring Congress, President Trump's administration and the farmers and producers who feed our nation together to advance best practices in food production - but we must act now. The current crisis can and must be an opportunity to strengthen our agricultural sector. This is not the first time our nation has been challenged, and as we have seen time and again by working together, we will come out of this crisis stronger than ever.

Richard Hudson represents North Carolina's 8th District and is co-chairman and founder of the bipartisan Agriculture and Rural America Task Force.


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