As the COVID-19 crisis continues to develop, I have been following the increased concern over our country’s food supply. As Americans stock up at the grocery store, folks might be wondering if we are secure on this front.
Agriculture is the top industry in North Carolina. Whether it’s hogs, chickens, cattle, turkeys, sweet potatoes or specialty crops, our state is one of the most unique in the nation in terms of agricultural diversity. Our farmers are working around the clock to ensure foods continue to make it to suppliers, whether that’s processing facilities, grocery stores or food banks.
However, we must be vigilant against outbreaks at the food facilities themselves. For example, Smithfield Foods pork processing plant in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, was forced to close this week after several employees caught the virus. Smithfield’s CEO Kenneth Sullivan, said, “The closure of this facility, combined with a growing list of other protein plants that have shuttered across our industry, is pushing our country perilously close to the edge in terms of our meat supply.”
What Mr. Sullivan is getting at is simple and straightforward: If farmers and processing plants aren’t able to operate, then it will be impossible to keep grocery store shelves stocked. This is a point of concern, as the pork production industry in North Carolina supports more than 44,000 jobs and $10 billion in economic output for the state.
It’s not just pork processing plants that have been hit by COVID-19, but also poultry and other meats.
Despite news of food shortages in my state and in many others, farmers continue to churn out products that can be bought in local grocery stores, and I remain optimistic that the safety measures that exist at these plants will prevent further outbreaks.
But beyond our faith in the industry, Congress acted to mitigate the economic damage caused by COVID-19. Within the CARES Act, there is a direct $16 billion available to farmers that have suffered losses as a result of the pandemic. In addition, there is $873 million set aside for the Department of Agriculture to purchase food products and then distribute them to food banks. If any farmers need help applying for aid, they can call 336-998-1313 for my district office in Advance.
In times like these, we have to ensure that our food supply is secure and our farmers, growers, and producers are able to operate safely and efficiently. Their success is our country’s success. If they falter, American life will take a downward turn. We cannot thank these folks enough for what they do and Congress must continue to support them during the COVID-19 pandemic.