Senate Democrats urge administration to protect food supply and essential workers

Senate Democrats urge administration to protect food supply and essential workers
© Greg Nash

Senate Agriculture Committee ranking member Debbie StabenowDeborah (Debbie) Ann StabenowACLU calls on Congress to approve COVID-19 testing for immigrants Senators press IRS chief on stimulus check pitfalls Democrats warn Biden against releasing SCOTUS list MORE (D-Mich.) took the lead on a Monday letter urging the Trump administration to act to protect the food supply and essential workers during the coronavirus pandemic.

“It is vital that we do everything we can to protect food supply workers,” Stabenow and 35 other Democratic senators wrote to Vice President Pence and Agriculture Secretary Sonny PerdueGeorge (Sonny) Ervin PerdueThe ethanol industry is essential — it deserves a boost from Congress US trade policy milks America's dairy farmers Ivanka Trump hands out food boxes to DC families MORE, as well as the Food and Drug Administration, Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Homeland Security.

The letter comes as the food supply chain has been in the spotlight due to the closing of meat processing plants where workers have contracted the coronavirus.

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Pork processor Smithfield Foods closed two more plants, one in Wisconsin and one in Missouri, last week, and a worker from its closed South Dakota facility died. Two employees of Tyson Foods’s Iowa plant have died, as well as four employees of Tyson Foods's Georgia plant. 

“The severe shortages of adequate COVID-19 testing capability and personal protective equipment are exacerbating these problems. Lack of access to tests and personal protective equipment leaves essential food supply workers at even higher risk and makes the virus more likely to spread, harming more workers and further damaging our food supply chain,” the senators wrote.

The senators asked the administration about plans to keep essential food supply chain workers safe; what agencies are doing to create consistency from the food industry with regard to monitoring symptoms in employees, sanitation practices, social distancing and personal protective equipment standards; and if infections of inspectors caused any slowing of inspections or production, among other questions.

They requested answers by Friday. 

On Friday, Sen. Amy KlobucharAmy KlobucharHouse committee requests hearing with postmaster general amid mail-in voting concerns Biden should pick the best person for the job — not the best woman Senators press Postal Service over complaints of slow delivery MORE (D-Minn.) led a group of 26 Democratic members of Congress on a letter to Perdue, urging him to form a task force to identify rural challenges during the coronavirus pandemic.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is facing increasing pressure over inspections and calls for the agency to step in and purchase products to keep them from going to waste.