COVID-19 Updates From Headquarters
Note: Given the significant impacts COVID-19 has had on the beef industry in the past week, in the section below we have centralized some of the most essential updates. Full COVID-19 coverage from CCA is available here, and full coverage from CCA affiliate the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association is available here. Regulatory work and other non-COVID-19 matters continue to impact the beef industry, so you are encouraged to review the regular “From Headquarters” section, below.
Agriculture is critical infrastructure and an essential service during this emergency
CCA staff and leadership has been in constant contact with the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) and the Governor’s office to ensure that all sectors of the livestock industry and beef production are considered “essential services,” ensuring that there will not be any restrictions or unnecessary hurdles in the way of providing beef to re-stock grocers’ meat cases.
Last week, CDFA issued guidance that “The food supply makes up critical infrastructure from farm to table and includes assets, systems, networks, and functions that provide vital services to the nation. It is essential that federal government-defined critical infrastructure and supply chains are protected, and that all elements pertaining to the food supply remain operational, including a workforce that is vital to production of the food supply.” The California State Public Health Officer has released a list of essential critical infrastructure workers confirming that “those employed in animal food, feed, and ingredient production” and other agricultural employees are exempt from the Governor’s stay-at-home order.
CCA expects no restrictions upon the agricultural sector and food production. Should your operation confront any hurdles related to the COVID-19 outbreak, contact CCA staff immediately so that we can work with CDFA and the Governor’s office to immediately resolve any issues.
Additionally, CCA encourages all producers to document all losses associated with the COVID-19 crisis. Such information will be vital in ensuring that producers are ultimately compensated for losses associated with the pandemic.
CCA and NCBA work to secure the beef supply chain and provide relief for ranchers
CCA continues to work closely with our national affiliate the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association to ensure that the federal government eliminates any obstacles in the food supply chain. On Tuesday, NCBA Vice President of Government Affairs Ethan Lane wrote to Vice President Pence outlining administrative actions which would protect and streamline the nation’s beef supply chain.
In response to COVID-19’s impact on the cattle markets, NCBA CEO Colin Woodall on Wednesday wrote to the North American Meat Institute asking NAMI’s members “to be aggressive in the cash market and base their bids on the increased cutout value we are seeing rather than the futures” to ensure market liquidity and transparency.
Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue tweeted last night that “USDA is actively monitoring all ag commodity markets & the flow of food…during the COVID 19 outbreak. We are paying special attention to the difference in prices from the farm gate to the grocery shelf.”
CCA is also working with NCBA and our allies in the nation’s capital to ensure that all producer losses directly associated with COVID-19 are addressed by Congress. The Senate is currently negotiating and drafting a nearly-$2 trillion “Phase III” stimulus bill in response to the COVID-19 crisis, and Thursday NCBA sent a letter to Congressional leadership asking that Congress “provide for an increase in the U.S. Department of Agriculture Commodity Credit Corporation’s (USDA – CCC) borrowing authority from $30 to $50 billion, fully fund the replenishment of CCC, and ensure that livestock producers will be eligible for assistance in this time of need.”
CCA has been in contact with the offices of Senators Dianne Feinstein and Kamala Harris asking them to support the Phase III bill, particularly the extended borrowing authority for the CCC. Additionally, CCA today sent a letter to California’s Congressional Delegation outlining CCA’s priorities for legislative relief from COVID-19.
While the Phase III stimulus bill failed procedural votes yesterday and today in the Senate, Senators and the Administration will continue to negotiate. The provisions of the bill relating to the CCC are not among the controversial provisions of the bill which have delayed its passage by the Senate.
US Forest Service Region 5 goes virtual, suspends prescribed fires
On Friday, the US Forest Service’s Pacific Southwest Office, covering all of California, announced that it is suspending all prescribed fire activities “until further notice.” A press release makes clear that the cessation of prescribed burns is due to the COVID-19 outbreak, stating that the move is intended to “prevent any effects from smoke that might further worsen conditions for those who are at risk in our communities, while reducing exposure for employees who might not otherwise need to travel, and creating social distancing for resources working on the fire.” The announcement comes as many, including California’s elected leaders, worry about the state’s fire readiness in the wake of COVID-19 (see “Sen. Kamala Harris ‘very concerned’ about coronavirus and wildfires” in “Industry News,” below).
The Pacific Southwest Region also announced that all forest operations would be “virtual” until further notice to ensure proper social distancing. Permittees needing to meet with Forest Service personnel before turnout will need to call their Forest Service office to arrange for annual meetings to be conducted remotely. CCA is working closely with the Public Lands Council to ensure that COVID-19 response does not impact turnout on public lands, especially at a time when the beef supply chain is so critical.
CDC Guidance on Animals and COVID-19
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has created a webpage of information regarding animals and COVID-19, including guidance on how to stay healthy around animals during this time.
“In the United States, there is no evidence to suggest that any animals, including pets, livestock, or wildlife, might be a source of COVID-19 infection at this time,” CDC addresses on the site. “However, because all animals can carry germs that can make people sick, it’s always a good idea to practice healthy habits around pets and other animals.”
For your health, CDC recommends the following guidelines:
- Wash your hands after handling animals, their food, waste, or supplies.
- Practice good pet hygiene and clean up after pets properly.
- Take pets to the veterinarian regularly and talk to your veterinarian if you have questions about your pet’s health.
For further information on animals and COVID-19, visit the CDC’s “Animals and the Coronavirus Disease 2019” webpage. To visit the page, click here.
All California livestock markets will remain open for business—with COVID-19 precautions
CCA has also been in close contact with the Livestock Marketing Association and has received assurances that California livestock markets will remain open for business during the COVID-19 crisis. To prevent the transmission of the virus, however, markets are making changes to the way they do business to ensure proper social distancing.
Feds and California provide temporary Hours of Service exemptions for livestock haulers
In response to the COVID-19 emergency, last week the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) issued an Expanded Emergency Declaration exempting livestock haulers from compliance with the federal Hours of Service rules that limit drive time. The declaration provides an Hours of Service exemption for all haulers “providing direct assistance in support of emergency relief efforts related to the COVID-19 outbreaks, including” food “for emergency restocking of distribution centers or stores” and “immediate precursor raw materials” necessary for the production of such food and groceries. The Office of the Secretary of Transportation interprets all livestock hauling to fit this exemption.
Hours of Service rest requirements remain in effect under the declaration, meaning that once a driver returns to his or her “normal reporting location,” that individual must still receive a minimum of 10 hours of off-duty rest.
Governor Gavin Newsom responded to the exemption by issuing an Executive Order likewise exempting haulers engaged in intrastate or interstate transportation from California’s Hours of Service regulations. While Governor Newsom’s order does not explicitly reference livestock (or “precursor raw materials”), the order makes clear that it is intended to be consistent with FMCSA’s order and apply to all hauling “in support of emergency relief efforts,” including “food for emergency restocking of stores.”
The FMCSA exemption is in effect until April 12 (or until the COVID-19 national emergency is terminated, if it is terminated prior to April 12). The California exemption is in effect as long as the FMCSA exemption remains effective.
Though not required, CCA recommends that livestock haulers operating under these exemptions print out the FMCSA Expanded Emergency Declaration, available here, and Governor Newsom’s Executive Order, available here, and keep these documents in their cab.
Sacramento Lawmakers Continue to Respond to COVID-19 Crisis
Last week, Legislative Bulletin detailed unusual steps that lawmakers in Sacramento had taken in response to the COVID-19 pandemic: Cancelling Senate and Assembly hearings, agencies cancelling regulatory hearings (or moving those hearings online) and at least one regulator—California Coastal Commission Chair Steve Padilla—testing positive for the novel coronavirus.
In the past week, state lawmakers have taken even more drastic measures to respond to COVID-19. On Monday night, legislators unanimously voted to adjourn early for Spring Recess; legislators are currently expected to return to the Capitol on April 13, the day after Easter (the recess was originally planned for April 2-13). The move is intended to safeguard public safety: the busy Capitol risks easy transmission of the virus, and many legislators and staffer are over 65 years old and thus in the ‘high-risk’ category for serious complications from COVID-19.
The recess came after a day of work to address COVID-19, during which the legislature approved emergency legislation establishing a $1.1 billion relief package for hospitals, businesses, local governments and schools.
Both houses of the legislature have altered their rules so that legislators and staff can continue their work in the face of COVID-19: both the Assembly and Senate will allow staff to work-from-home with approval of the legislator for whom they work, and the Senate will permit members to remotely attend hearings and floor sessions.
Bill hearings scheduled for the coming weeks have been postponed, and it is possible that legislators will need to act later this year to delay legislative deadlines in response to the COVID-19 crisis.
CCA will continue to keep you updated on the impacts of COVID-19 in the State Capitol.