Over 160 farm, food and agriculture organizations today sent a letter to the White House Coronavirus Task Force calling for the federal government to take additional steps and devote new resources to help farmers, ranchers and growers across the country protect their employees from the novel coronavirus.
“[F]armers continue to do our best to provide a safe workspace for all employees, promoting safety on and off the farm. Across the agriculture sector, employers have instituted best practices including social distancing, enhanced hygiene and sanitation procedures, employee training, and the use of personal protective equipment (PPE),” the letter states. “With the broad strain on PPE availability, testing, and other resources, however, we ask for your help as we continue to promote the health and safety of our farm employees and rural communities.”
Among the actions the groups recommend that the Task Force take are:
- Adapting farmworker housing requirements to facilitate greater social distancing and allow for the use of alternative housing structures;
- Ensuring that COVID-19 testing resources are accessible to agricultural employers and their employees and that results are available in a timely fashion;
- Helping farmers offset the costs of COVID-19 mitigation expenses, while maintaining existing farm programs, by increasing Commodity Credit Corporation funds;
- Prioritize PPE and future vaccine distribution for the food and fiber supply chain;
- Leverage networks, in cooperation with states, counties, associations and community-based non-profits, to address the areas of community exposure risks to our workforce that are outside the occupational setting and ensure care is available and accessible to those who become ill, even in rural communities.
The letter notes that across many of these recommendations, expanding the pandemic response beyond the farm gate and into farming communities will be critical to ensuring the well-being of employees, their families and their neighbors.
The letter ends with, “Our national food security depends on a safe working environment for frontline agricultural employees. The work of planting, cultivating, harvesting, packaging, and processing crops, dairy and meat cannot be conducted from the comfort of a home office, as with many jobs. Despite the implementation of best practices in fields and processing facilities, the agricultural workforce remains at heightened risk of infection. We ask for your attention to this matter to help us continue to mitigate risk whenever and however possible for those dedicated to stocking America’s pantry.”
Read the full letter.