The federal government this week signaled its willingness to take over every part of the food industry that is not functioning properly to keep production flowing.
At present, an extension of authority is being given to “FDA-regulated food facilities, including fruit and vegetable processing.”
USDA Under Secretary for Food Safety Mindy Brashears and FDA Commissioner for Food Policy and Response Frank Yiannas said it was “the next step in implementing Executive Order 13917.”
That is President Trump’s Executive Order signed in April to give the USDA authority under the Defense Production Act (DPA) to keep meat and poultry plants open. Coronavirus disease and death forced temporary blackouts and reduced production, raising the prospect of meat shortages.
Heaps of demand for cuts still remain, but production tends to return under the authority of the USDA Defense Act. Since the national emergency was declared March 13 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the law has also been used to produce masks, protective equipment, and medical ventilators.
Jennifer McEntire, vice president for food safety and technology for the United Fresh Produce Association said the USDA-FDA collaboration was “a good thing,” but also said the industry hoped the DPA authority did not need to be mobilized.
In a joint statement, Brashears and Yiannas said the action was “another step in a series of proactive steps taken by the USDA and the FDA to maximize food availability after an unprecedented disruption, the COVID-19 pandemic has caused the food supply chain that has formed and perfected. for decades. “
They said the USDA-FDA agreement was “an important readiness” to approach the peak harvest season. Some fruits and vegetables are planted to be frozen or canned. This agreement makes DPA available throughout the process, no matter whether the USDA or FDA has regulatory authority.
The USDA / FDA statement made it clear that the agreement would be used if COVID-19 was sick among packaging employees or the harvest crew threatening to reduce production capacity. DPA can be used as a trump card if state or local closures threaten harvest disputes or “the continuation of the functions of the national food supply chain, damaging critical infrastructure during national emergencies.”
The joint statement said the USDA and the FDA would work with state and local regulators “collaboratively,” but promised to take action based on the DPA “as needed, to ensure the continuity of our food supply.”
Under the Executive Order signed on April 28, Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue was given the authority to use DPA if necessary to fulfill contracts at food processing facilities.
“The MOU (memorandum of understanding) makes it clear that the FDA will work with stakeholders to monitor food supplies for food sources that are not under the USDA’s exclusive jurisdiction to prevent disruption to food facilities regulated by the FDA,” according to a joint statement.
Throughout the pandemic, the USDA and the FDA said they had worked with industrial and federal partners to protect frontline employees with needs such as personal protective equipment (PPE) including masks, disinfectants and sanitary supplies. Federal agencies also monitor food supplies for any signs of shortages.
Brashears and Yiannas are the best food safety officials in the federal government. In that statement, they said again that foodborne exposure was not known as the transmission route for SARS-CoV-2, which causes COVID-19, also known as coronavirus. They said their agents along with the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention were ready to respond to any foodborne outbreaks that might occur during a pandemic.
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