The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) announced this week that as of August 25, it will require official meat and poultry establishments, egg products plants, and all other facilities where FSIS provides inspection services, such as voluntary inspection service, to follow current guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on mask use. If facilities fail to implement mask wearing, USDA will withdraw all Inspection Program Personnel (IPP) from producer establishments.
“Establishments must require their employees or contractors to wear masks when IPP are present, if the establishment is located in a county with ‘substantial’ or ‘high’ community transmission of COVID-19,” the agency said.
Ernie Birchmeier, livestock and dairy specialist for the Michigan Farm Bureau, said the announcement puts producers in a pinch as they look at possible closure for failure to follow guidelines.
“While we all understand and support worker safety, this comes at a very challenging time for meat processors of all sizes,” Birchmeier said. “We learned a year ago that meat plant closures have an immediate and direct economic impact on our livestock producers. It seems as though a change in requirements would have been discussed and previous notification with the ability for timely adjustment would have made more sense. We need to keep workers safe, but we also must keep our industry moving forward.”
Birchmeier added, “Sometimes it works best if we sit down and discuss issues to develop solutions that work best for everyone rather than jumping to decisions that have a negative impact on everyone.”
Nearly all Michigan counties are deemed to have substantial or high community transmission of COVID-19, so the notice applies to them, said Craig Anderson, manager of agricultural labor and safety services for Michigan Farm Bureau.
“For those operations required to have inspections, the decision is to force mask use or close,” Anderson said. “For those operations voluntarily doing inspections, they may have potential third-party inspection services, but many markets stipulate USDA inspections leading to plant closure if only one person improperly uses a mask.”
Anderson said the USDA refers to CDC guidance in support of their mask requirement. However, he said each of the CDC guidance documents recommends but does not require masks to be worn.
“It is unfortunate USDA, the primary protection Agency for our food supply, has disregarded all other engineering, administrative and personal protective equipment principles and practices and has determined the only effective means to reduce COVID spread to its employees are two pieces of cloth,” he said.