Agriculture secretary stresses safety, resiliency of food supply amid processing drop

Agriculture secretary stresses safety, resiliency of food supply amid processing drop
© Greg Nash

U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Sonny PerdueGeorge (Sonny) Ervin PerdueTrump's pitch to Maine lobstermen falls flat The ethanol industry is essential — it deserves a boost from Congress US trade policy milks America's dairy farmers MORE stressed early Thursday that the nation's food supply chain is safe and resilient, adding, however, that processing has dropped amid the coronavirus pandemic.

“Well, the good news is, I think, we’re safe. We’re sound. The food supply chain is resilient. Are we processing as much as we did? No, but we don’t have the demand from institutional settings like restaurants and other congregate feeding that we had as well, so the demand is down from that side, but the supply is down somewhat but adequate for our people at grocery stores and retail establishments,” Perdue told Fox Business's Maria BartiromoMaria Sara BartiromoGOP lawmaker: Democratic Party 'used to be more moderate' The IRS undermines the objective of the PPP Businesses plead for states to enforce mask mandates MORE.

Recent closures of processing plants due to coronavirus outbreaks have put a spotlight on the food supply chain. But Perdue said the supply chain is sound and shouldn’t be a cause of concern.

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“It’s safe, it’s resilient, and it’ll continue. We have multiple processing facilities. While some are down temporarily to clean out, CDC’s working with them on the best measures to protect their employees as well as to become operational again,” he added, referring to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

Pork processor Smithfield Foods last Sunday closed its Sioux Falls, S.D., facility, which accounts for up to 5 percent of U.S. pork production, “until further notice,” and the company's CEO has warned of potential meat shortages.

The National Pork Producers Council has also called for immediate and massive Agriculture Department purchases of pork products and payments to producers, measures included in the $2 trillion coronavirus relief package.

“We’ll take dairy products. We’ll take meat, protein products, both beef and pork off the – their produce as well. Many of this food that’s being – that does not have a home in a market for it, USDA will have a program that will procure this food and distribute it to food banks and other nonprofit charities,” Perdue said on Thursday. 

Perdue also said that food processing plants have been taking more safety precautions to protect employees like putting up Plexiglas dividers and ordering the use of face shields.