US feed group urges action as meat processing sector’s capacity cut by COVID-19

By Jane Byrne

- Last updated on GMT

© GettyImages/Diy13
© GettyImages/Diy13

Related tags covid-19 Meat Poultry Dairy

The NGFA has urged the US Congress and the Trump administration to take action to facilitate the availability of workforce health measures and practices to allow businesses restore operations.

“The most critical need currently is for the meat and poultry processing industry, whose capacity has been curtailed sharply by plant shutdowns and slowdowns given COVID-19 illnesses and safety measures,”​ David Fairfield, senior vice president of the feed business at the National Grain and Feed Association (NGFA), told FeedNavigator.

The measures the organization is proposing include making non-medical-grade face coverings available, along with disinfectants and sanitation supplies, temperature monitoring devices, antibody testing; vaccines (once available); and “other prudent practices that will restore the confidence of employees and consumers alike.”

The feed organization acknowledges the recent lifeline from the US Congress to assist companies struggling with the impact of the pandemic, the reopening of the paycheck protection program for small businesses. The program involves loans designed to provide a direct incentive for small businesses to keep their workers on the payroll.

“The NGFA strongly supported significant additional funding for the US Small Business Administration (SBA) Payroll Protection Program.  This program has significant value to companies, including those within the feed and feed ingredient business, with 500 or fewer employees, and assists in helping them retain their workforces. 

“A replenishment of funding for this program was enacted by Congress on April 24, and NGFA will be advocating additional funding in the future if warranted,” ​said Fairfield.

The NGFA has recommended a raft of additional legislative and federal Executive Branch actions to respond to the unprecedented economic damage resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic.

It is calling for legislation that would provide tax incentives, including a payroll tax holiday, to encourage workers employed by sectors like the food and agriculture sector that have been designated ‘essential’ by the US Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency. 

Also valuable, it stressed, would be additional funding, if needed, for the US$10bn provided under the CARES Act to expand the SBA’s Economic Injury Disaster Loan Program to provide small business owners with up to $10K grants and up to $2m in low-interest working capital loans that can be used to pay fixed debts, payroll, accounts payable and other bills that cannot be paid because of cash-flow problems resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Support urged for biofuel and dairy sectors

And the US group urges specific funding to support the nation’s biofuels and dairy sectors, which have been hammered by the COVID-19 movement restrictions.

“The NGFA supports providing additional funding for the Commodity Credit Corporation to provide financial assistance to particularly the biofuels, meat, poultry and dairy sectors in a manner the US Department of Agriculture determines is most effective and least market-distorting. 

For the ethanol and biodiesel sectors, which has been hit hard economically by the decline in fuel usage, NGFA’s preference is that financial assistance be provided to those plants that remain in operation or restart operations within a time frame determined by USDA.  When fuel demand returns, NGFA’s objective is to have the biofuels industry restored to production in as timely a manner as possible, which is essential to support US corn, soybean and other producers, as well as the distillers grain (DDGs) supply.”

Transport relief, infrastructure fix

Fairfield said the NGFA has successfully advocated regulatory relief for motor carriers transporting agricultural products, medical supplies, warehouse goods and other freight supplying sectors.

But in terms of future support for infrastructure, the feed organization said it is continuing to demand that Congress provides funding in future COVID-19 stimulus legislation for long-overdue infrastructure projects that would assist economic recovery and job creation, while bringing about long-lasting improvements that will benefit US competitiveness for decades to come.  

“These include projects to improve the transportation infrastructure by rehabilitating the locks and dams on the Upper Mississippi and Illinois River System; fully utilizing the surplus funds provided in the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund for their intended purpose of dredging and maintaining US ports; and installing broadband service in rural America.” 

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