By Sarah Gonzalez, Director of Communications and Digital Media
The NGFA is working to encourage consistency among state, federal and local rules regarding business operations and COVID-19 emergency response efforts.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) issued a guidance on March 19, and subsequently updated it on March 23, confirming food and agriculture as Tier 1 critical infrastructure industry, and identifying food and agriculture workers and transporters as critical employees who should continue to have access to workplaces despite state and local shelter-in-place orders issued by state governors and local officials in an effort to stem the spread of the virus. Another update of the CISA guidance – version 2.0 – containing suggestions submitted by NGFA, the Food and Drug Administration and U.S. Department of Agriculture may be issued as early as later today.
During the COVID-19 response, CISA defines critical infrastructure industries, which include healthcare services, pharmaceutical and food supply. “Workers in these industries are vital to maintaining this segment of the food and health industry – while following (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) CDC and public health guidance to stay away if they are sick,” stated the agency.
Among its efforts this week, NGFA collaborated with other agricultural groups to communicate with state governors and the Trump administration about the importance of ensuring that there is a consistent recognition of agricultural workers as essential throughout the supply chain, including for regulatory relief from federal drive time rules for agricultural haulers. Many state governors, including those in California and Kentucky, incorporated the CISA guidance into their state emergency declaration plans.
Expansion of Hours-of-Service Exemption for Agricultural Haulers: In a March 25 letter to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) spearheaded by NGFA and signed by 53 other agricultural groups, NGFA urged the agency to grant relief from federal drive time rules for all truck drivers hauling agricultural goods.
“As trucking capacity and the availability of drivers tightens due to COVID-19, neither surge nor normal trucking capacity may be adequately available to provide the required just-in-time deliveries to animal feeding operations, food processing and manufacturing plants, distribution facilities, export facilities and retail outlets, which could result in significant food chain supply disruptions,” the groups said.
The agency previously issued an emergency declaration due to COVID-19. But unfortunately, that only exempted drivers delivering food to distribution and retail facilities from compliance with federal hours-of-service rules until at least April 12. The agency expressly included livestock in the exemption. The NGFA and other agricultural groups noted in their letter that FMCSA’s previous action “was insufficient to adequately encompass the major beginning and middle segments of the food and agricultural supply chain….Each sector of that chain is linked, and when one segment is affected adversely, the ripple effects extend throughout the supply chain.”
To address tightening trucking capacity and disruptions to truck transport, the groups urged FMCSA “to expand and extend the hours-of-service relief from farm-to-fork.” The NGFA and other groups said the emergency declaration should be extended to include truck transport of: raw and processed agricultural commodities, including grains and oilseeds, animal food and feed ingredients, processed food and food ingredients, honey bees and farm supplies (such as seed, fertilizer and other agricultural products and chemicals needed by farmers to grow crops) “to adequately preserve the resiliency of our nation’s food supply during the pandemic.”
The efforts of the group paid off on March 25 when FMCSA extended the drive time relief to a larger portion of the food and agricultural supply chain in a document providing hours-of-service relief to truck drivers hauling agricultural products. The new FAQ document states that wood pulp, animal feed and fertilizer are eligible for hours-of-service relief under the emergency declaration because they are precursor to items that are “essential” for the emergency relief effort.
Previously, FMCSA had privately signaled that feed was not eligible, so the change in direction is a positive development. Unfortunately, FMCSA singled out pet food as ineligible for hours-of-service relief
NGFA has a request into FMCSA to determine if grain, oilseeds, pulse crops and feed ingredients are considered a precursor to essential items for the COVID-19 relief effort.
The NGFA and other agricultural groups also requested that FMCSA add flexibility to the process for obtaining new restricted agricultural commercial driver’s licenses, assist in keeping truck washouts open that are necessary for the sanitary transportation of many food products, and provide leadership in harmonizing the temporary increases in truck weight limits that have been announced by several states. View NGFA’s press release here.
View the FMCSA emergency declaration and accompanying FAQs below:
- Emergency Declaration
- Frequently Asked Questions Related to the FMCSA Emergency Declaration – Part 1
- FAQs Related to the FMCSA Emergency Declaration – Part 2
Food Industry Letter to White House, Congress on COVID-19 Business Exemptions: In a March 18 letter to federal, state and local elected officials, more than 40 groups representing the food, beverage, and consumer packaged goods industries, including NGFA, requested assistance clarifying businesses that are exempt from local gathering bans and curfews. Some states have clearly exempted food, beverage, and consumer packaged goods manufacturing facilities from gathering bans, while others have not. “This lack of uniformity is leading to significant confusion and could further deteriorate if a level of consistency across states and municipalities is not achieved quickly,” the letter notes.
The letter urged that federal, state and local governments exempt workers engaged in manufacturing consumer packaged goods (CPG), including food, beverage, health, hygiene and sterilization products, and other essential manufacturing facilities like pet food, from curfew and gathering restrictions, provided that they follow worker safety guidelines put forward by the CDC and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).
Ag Letter to Governors on Essential Workforce: In a March 24 letter to all 50 state governors, more than 40 agricultural groups, including the NGFA, requested that each state’s response plan reflect the Department of Homeland Security’s designation of the food and agriculture workforce as “essential critical infrastructure.”
“To ensure a consistent approach across all 50 states and local governments, the undersigned organizations respectfully request that you incorporate the CISA list and any future amendments into your state response plan, and any critical shelter-in-place or shut down orders for your state, thereby allowing these workers, facilities and services to continue to operate and provide necessary inputs for the food and agriculture supply chain,” the letter stated.
COVID-19 Industry Updates: As noted in the NGFA Newsletter on March 18, the NGFA created a separate section of its website to provide up-to-date governmental resources that may help NGFA-member companies navigate the impacts of coronavirus. Updates from relevant federal agencies can be found on NGFA’s COVID-19 Industry Updates webpage. NGFA will continue to populate and update this webpage as more resources become available. The NGFA also is working with Grain Journal to host a webinar on Thursday, April 2 to provide additional information to the industry and respond to questions. The webinar is scheduled for 3-4:45 pm Eastern time. [See Events section of this Newsletter for details.]