That Arctic blast in Nebraska last week that caused a congressman to write the Secretary of Agriculture about whether a local Tyson pork plant was left without  USDA inspectors did prompt a response  from the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS)

“All FSIS in-plant personnel understand their essential role in providing inspection services to protect public health,” an FSIS spokesman said. “However, FSIS firmly believes that the health, safety, and welfare of our inspection personnel is paramount and must be considered together with production needs during severe weather events.”

“ FSIS routinely coordinates with establishments, including in this instance, in advance of any severe weather situations to establish a plan that considers both the safety of establishment and FSIS in-plant personnel and inspection needs,” the spokesman continued. “FSIS and the establishment were in communication and agreed that on Jan. 15, FSIS would provide an inspector for the processing side of the establishment, but no slaughter operations would occur due to hazardous driving conditions.”

The Tyson pork plant in Madison, NE, returned to full operations on Jan. 16.

Local news coverage has clarified the severity and impact of the recent snowstorm in Eastern Nebraska, including the Madison area, with the storm creating “life-threatening blizzard weather conditions.” 

In response to the extreme conditions created by the storm, Nebraska Gov. Jim Pillen declared a state of emergency and urged Nebraskans to stay home. Roads in northeast Nebraska were still largely closed Monday morning, creating challenges for employees to get to work.

On Jan. 15,  U.S. Congressman Mike Flood, R-NE, wrote Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack about what he said were “troubling reports” about USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service personnel not reporting for work at the Tyson Pork Plant in Madison, NE.

“Let me be clear,” Flood wrote. “This is unacceptable and must be remedied immediately.” 

Flood’s letter did not mention any complaints or communication he might have received from Tyson managers about any missing USDA inspectors — still, no pork for human consumption may be produced without  USDA inspectors being present.

Still, the weather was not bothering Flood nearly as much as shift-missing inspectors.

“If our communities can show up to work, the USDA can too,” he wrote. “Our pork producers are ready and waiting; our plant wants to operate; the USDA must step up to the plate and fulfill its mission to serve rural America.”

Flood did say the safety of Nebraskans is his “top priority,” and he understands “taking necessary steps” in light of “challenging weather.”

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