Livestock and poultry production in the United States held up after the Defense Production Act put USDA in charge of making sure meat processors kept operating but in compliance with CDC and OSHA guidelines.
Livestock production for the April to June quarter reached 85.5 percent in comparison with the previous three month period. And poultry production was 96.29 percent of the previous quarter.
According to USDA’s Quarterly Enforcement Report for the federal government’s third quarter, which runs from April 1 to June 30, Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) personnel inspected 36.67 million livestock carcasses, down from the second quarter’s 42.90 million.
The drop off for livestock was 14.5 percent. Poultry production hit 2.362 billion birds during the quarter, off just 3.71% from 2.453 billion in the previous quarter.
USDA was empowered to use the Defense Production Act on April 28 after beef, hog, and poultry production facilities were all having difficulties operating because employees were becoming infected with the coronavirus. Facility shutdowns were occurring and media forecasters were predicting shortages of meat and poultry would be occurring just as had occurred with toilet paper a month earlier.
U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue said at the time that the goal was to keep meat and poultry processing facilities open during the COVID-19 national emergency while maintaining the health and safety of “these heroic employees.”
Food industry employees were deemed “essential” and could not be forced off the job as was done with “nonessential” employees. Nor were could any “essential” employees be forced to work. Before and after the Defense Production Act was triggered, companies used offers of higher pay and bonuses to keep production shifts filled.
While meat and poultry shortages did not develop as so many predicted, production facilities did have to close temporarily or hold back on production. And keeping plants operating with sufficient employees did come with a price.
The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says reports from 23 states show 16,200 meat and poultry employees were infected with the virus and 86 died.
Another sign that U.S. production kept up during the quarter is that meat and poultry productions imported to the country were up only about 5 percent at 1.1 billion pounds.
The quarterly report also includes information about specific administrative, civil, and criminal enforcement actions undertaken by FSIS.
The USDA agency riled two administrative complaints, one against Mullen, NE-based Sandhill’s Beef, and the other against Milton, WV-based Nelson’s Meat Processing.
Against Nelson’s, FSIS wants to suspend and permanently withdraw federal inspection services because of repetitive failures to comply with regulations including humane handling and slaughter of livestock.
With Sandhill’s, FSIS’s complaint is for lack of either a HACCP or SSOP. Administrative Law Judge Tiemey Carlos issued an order for the parties to conclude the proceeding.
The quarter’s sole seizure acton was a familiar one. The federal court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania issued warrants for the seizure of meat and poultry items from Miller’s Organic Farm in Bird-In-Hand, PA.
The items were not federally inspected.
Also in Pennsylvania’s Eastern District, the firm of Chui Xun Liu entered into a consent decree, enjoining them from the sale or transportation of misbranded meat.
FSIS filed in U.S. District Court for New Jersey for a permanent injunction against Little Falls, NJ-based Rainbow Foods Inc, and Robert Kalkan, its president. It seeks an end to violations and a promise to adhere to meat and poultry regulations.
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